Future Thinking – What is it?

Future Thinking is a phrase I coined years ago. I came up with the phrase when I simply got fed up with people talking ‘positive’. I wanted something more meaningful than positive. ‘Being positive’ is often seen as a lame, limp and shallow phrase. I think this is because people who are positive in the ‘being positive’ sense of the word are often short term optimists, they are often positive for no apparent reason. They just come across as optimistic; positive without cause.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m what a lot of people call a positive person and I always try and look at the positive side to a given situation or problem. However, for me, ‘being positive‘ is something that happens ‘in the moment’ and not something that lasts. It’s not something that decisions affecting our futures are made of.

So, Future Thinking sprang from a desire to be more than just positive. I wanted to have a way of describing life choices with future consequences in mind and not just life choices that affect the moment. For me this meant that while I was ‘thinking’ about the future consequences of my actions, it didn’t necessarily mean that I was positive 100% all of the time. Sometimes looking at the negative aspect can provide you with insightful information to help make your ‘future thinking’ decisions!

How does Future Thinking work in practise? I use the following methods:

Look six months back

It probably seems a little weird to talk about Future Thinking by first talking about the past. However, there is a very good reason for this. I like to analyse decisions I’ve made by first looking to see if the desired affect has actually happened. In other words, I look six months into the past, remind myself of where I was (relating to a certain situation i.e. job) and see where I am now, also relating to the certain situation.

If things have improved to my liking, then I tell myself that the decision I made six months ago was a good one and that perhaps I should carry on doing what I’m doing for the next six months too!

Look six months forward

So, I know where I’ve come from. Now I ask myself where I would like to be in six months for a given situation (again, could be a job or something else) and I make decisions based on this thinking.  Now, you could say, I’m ‘Future Thinking’ at this stage and you would be right. The thing about Future Thinking and the difference between just being positive is that you can apply this ‘look six months’ forward style of thinking at any time and for, well, anything!

Future Thinking can apply to the single moments in our lives too

Every decision we make affects (or can do) our futures. Examples:

Example 1

You are a self employed property developer. You see the guy who owns the big property corporation in your city while at a party. Do you go talk to him? Just an introductory conversation at first?

If you do, maybe it will lead to more conversations in the future. Maybe (or maybe not) it will lead to working with his company in the future.

You wander over and just as you get near he turns with a smile on his face and you have a brief chat after which he takes your business card.

You feel satisfied that you did the right thing and months down the line you see him again and start to solidify the relationship and talk about upcoming projects.

Example 2

You are a teacher and love working with young children. However, right now you are working with teenagers and you find it tough and stressful.

You are at a teaching conference with some colleagues. They head to areas of the conference that interest them (teenage teaching) but you see a big sign saying:

"Primary school teaching, new exciting opportunity - coming to your area soon!"

You think about whether you should leave your friends for a while to find out what the sign is all about.

You don’t because peer pressure draws you away. For a long time afterwards you regret not investigating that sign.

Final thoughts

Being positive or optimistic will not bring towards you the things you want. You have to take action. You have to make decisions. Sometimes they are uncomfortable and fear stops you doing the right thing.

Looking six months forward takes you out of the moment and the necessity to be ‘positive’ and into something altogether different – Future Thinking.