Do you feel like you’re in control of your future?
Are the actions you’re taking consistent with where you want to be 5 to 10 years down the road?
If not, then future self journaling is a perfect way to bring clarity to your daily life.
You can’t control everything that happens to you, but there are crucial elements of your life that you can control.
Designing a plan for your future is one of those elements — and it’s often the difference between the 3% of people who truly get the life they want, and the 97% who settle for less than they deserve.
Let’s talk about how you can get started with future self journaling, which is a flexible framework that will provide you with a clear path to your ideal future.
What is Future Self Journaling?
Future self journaling is a type of journaling that focuses on what you want your life to look like in the coming years.
When it comes to your goals and dreams, everyone needs to start somewhere. And regardless of who you are, the starting point is writing them down.
A dream that isn’t written down is just a dream. A dream that is written down becomes a plan.
Most journaling techniques out there are grounded in the present. The emphasis tends to be on where you are right now — the things that you’re grateful for, the thoughts you’re experiencing, feelings that you’re uncomfortable with, etc.
Future self journaling is unique because it allows you to hit the fast-forward button on your life.
You simply imagine a life where you are happy and fulfilled, and then work backwards to determine the actions required to make that vision a reality.
However, future self journaling doesn’t just involve planning out your future.
You’re also forced to think deeply about what happens if you don’t attempt to live out your true purpose.
What happens if you retreat to comfort each day instead of challenging yourself?
What happens if you take the path of least resistance and avoid taking the actions that will move your life forward?
These are powerful questions that require you to imagine a future where you don’t live up to your full potential, and the feelings of bitterness and regret that would occur as a result.
Why Do Future Self Journaling?
The answer to this is pretty simple — it’s about living intentionally as opposed to living life by accident.
Unfortunately, most people choose the latter.
We’re not made to survive. We’re not made to manage our pain. We’re made to be creators of our lives.
Our unique ability to imagine is what sets us apart from other species.
As humans, we love to consider different scenarios. We can tell stories, predict future situations, reflect on moral dilemmas, and contemplate reasons for why specific events have occurred.
We’re able to do all of this because of our imagination.
When you neglect your imagination and don’t take the time to write out a vision for your life on paper, your attention becomes vulnerable.
It gets easier to fall prey to distractions that pull you away from the things that matter.
And while there is no substitute for focused action — future self journaling increases the probability that you will act in a way that is consistent with your desired future.
Benefits of Future Self Journaling
Nearly anyone can benefit from getting their thoughts out on paper.
The benefits of the various types of journaling deserve a blog post of their own, but here are a few of my favorites when it comes to future self journaling:
Journaling motivates you to get the most out of each day. One of the keys to making journaling a worthwhile exercise is constantly reviewing your journal each and every day.
Having a physical reference of your plans for the future keeps you accountable for your actions. Looking at your journal after binge-watching Netflix all day can provide the kick in the ass to get back on track tomorrow.
Journaling forces you to get brutally honest with yourself. Everyone is most honest with themselves when they are alone.
It takes a lot of courage to tell a crowd of 50 people your plans for the next five years, but that exercise becomes far easier when we’re sitting in a room alone. Journaling gives you a safe space for writing down whatever comes to your mind.
Journaling helps you delay gratification. If you have clearly defined goals for your future, you’re going to be less likely to skip immediate gratification. Instead you’ll be pulled towards activities that are in alignment with your long-term goals.
If you’ve outlined your future and a layer of belly fat isn’t a part of it, you might think twice before ordering that double-scoop ice cream sundae when you’re out at dinner with your friends.
Lastly, journaling (future self journaling specifically) brings the future consequences of your actions into the present. On any given day, it’s easy to overlook the impact of our moment to moment choices.
Skipping a workout doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize you haven’t been to the gym in a month. Future self journaling forces you to think about what would happen if you took the path of least resistance each day.
When you truly play out the end game of choosing immediate gratification daily, it will paint an ugly picture that you’ll try to avoid at all costs.
How to Start Future Self Journaling
There are only three things you need to get started with future self journaling:
- A pen or pencil
- A notebook/journal
- A space where you can be productive
Make sure you’re in the right headspace as this is an activity that requires all of your focused attention.
To get started, the first thing you need to do is establish a timeframe.
In other words, you need to give yourself a target deadline for the things you want to achieve and the life you want to live.
In order to get the most out of this exercise, set your timeframe between 1-3 years.
Anything shorter or longer than that isn’t going to be as beneficial for you.
Choosing a timeframe like three months is not going to be productive because it takes far longer for your daily actions/habits to compound.
On the other extreme, projecting yourself twenty years into the future is risky because it’s impossible to tell where your priorities will lie two decades from now.
For example, your primary focus right now may be your career because you don’t have many other obligations that influence your decisions. (spouse, kids, etc.)
However, if you get married five years from now and proceed to have kids a couple years later, that’s a huge life event that can drastically shift your priorities.
Suddenly, the decisions you make don’t just affect you. Your vision for the future needs to be adjusted and expanded to other human beings that you love deeply.
So in order to get the most out of future self journaling, I recommend selecting a timeframe between 1-3 years.
This will allow sufficient time for your daily actions to compound, and provide a short enough time horizon to account for drastic events that shake up your life.
Personally, when I completed my future self journal a couple months ago, I decided to set my timeframe at 2 years.
How Do You Write a Future Self Journal?
Now that you have established the timeframe for your journal, it’s time to start writing.
The first thing that we’re going to do is separate your life into different categories: health, work, social, finances romantic relationships, family
Then, you’re going to write down what your ideal life would look like in each of these categories. For each category, aim to write at least a paragraph. The more you write, the better grasp you’ll have on the kind of life you want to live.
I’ve included a few questions that you can ask yourself in each specific category to get the creative juices flowing.
Category One: Health
This one is pretty straightforward. It involves your exercise habits, eating habits, and overall lifestyle.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- How are you going to take care of your body?
- What kind of person do you want to see when you look in the mirror?
- What additional things are you going to do in order to give yourself the energy to operate at your full potential?
Category Two: Work
This category deals with the type of career you want to have. You’ll be focusing on what you want to be doing, and how much time you’re willing to dedicate to it.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- What kind of industry do you want to be working in?
- Do you want to work for yourself or someone else?
- What would your ideal role be within a company?
- Are you willing to work less hours and make less money in order to have more free time to devote to other areas of your life?
Category Three – Social
Now it’s time to formulate your ideal social life. Think about the kind of people you want to attract and how expansive you want your social circle to be. Also keep in mind how much time you want to spend with your friends and what you’d like to do with them.
Note that if you plan on excelling to the top of your field and working long hours, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make time every day to socialize and go out for drinks, dinner, etc.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- What kind of people do you like to be around?
- How frequently would you like to see your friends? Once a week? Twice a week? Three times per week?
- What kinds of things would you like to do with your friends?
- Are you willing to sacrifice a portion of your social life to excel in your career?
Category Four: Finances
This category centers around the kind of goals you’re looking to achieve financially.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- How soon are you looking to pay off your debt?
- Is money actually important to you? How much money do you need to make to achieve the level of financial freedom you’re looking for?
- Do you want to upsize your house/apartment?
- Do you have a specific savings target you’re looking to reach?
Category 5: Romantic Relationships
This category centers around what you want your dating life to look like/the relationship you want to have with your current partner.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- What kind of man/woman do you want to attract into your life?
- What do you want to improve about your current relationship with your partner?
- What kind of person do you want to be around men/women that you’re attracted to?
Category 6: Family (If Applicable)
Last but certainly not least, we have the family category. This obviously won’t apply to everyone, but if you are in the process of raising kids and starting a family then you need to think about what your ideal family life looks like.
Again, there are always trade-offs in life. If you’re at the point right now where putting in 12-14 hour days is still necessary to get to where you want to be, you may need to sacrifice more than most in this area.
You may have to miss a few recitals, sports games, and other important events if you truly want to be a master of your craft.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- How much time will you prioritize for your kids?
- What kinds of things would you like to do with your family?
- How big do you want your family to be?
- What kind of lifestyle do you want your family to have?
- Are you okay sacrificing some family time in order to master your craft and excel to the highest levels of your chosen field?
By now, you should now have something down for each of these six categories.
To wrap up the journal, we’re going to explore the consequences of you not making the right choices in each of these areas.
Imagining the Worst Case Scenario
The final part of this process is going to be the most powerful.
Up until now, you’ve been guided by hope and possibility — imagining a life where everything goes as planned and you’re massively fulfilled.
However, all of those thoughts you just wrote down are predicated on one thing.
If you don’t take action, you have zero chance at attaining the kind of lifestyle you just outlined in the previous steps.
The reason that only 3% of people tend to get the life they want is because only 3% of people are willing to push through the pain, fear, discomfort, and adversity that come along with living a meaningful life.
It’s hard to get out of your comfort zone and take massive action. It’s much easier to stay in your comfort zone and make excuses about why you’re not where you want to be.
It’s time to look into the future once again. But this time, we’re going to play out the dominoes of you not acting in a way that is consistent with your goals.
For each of the previous categories, you’re going to ask yourself a series of simple questions:
- What daily choices would sabotage this area of my life?
- If I repeated these choices day after day, what would my life look in…… years (insert your chosen timeframe here)
- If that was my situation X years from now, how would I feel on a daily basis knowing I was the one responsible?
- What sort of activities would I engage in to escape from the disappointment of my life?
Asking yourself these questions may bring about some dark thoughts — write them down anyway. Your goal is to feel the pain. Be as real with yourself as possible.
When you actually take the time to imagine what your life would look like if you remained stagnant and refused to grow, it can scare the living shit out of you. The good news is that you can use fear as fuel. Having a clear picture of what it would look like if you slacked off and didn’t challenge yourself will motivate you to avoid that miserable place at all costs.
Once you imagine the cost of inaction, action becomes your only choice.
Future self journaling is an incredibly powerful tool for designing your life and taking control of your future.
You can’t go into each day with a blank slate and just hope that you’re able to make the right decisions.
Each day that you’re alive, you need to have something to aim at.
You need a north star that guides your daily actions, and writing down a detailed outline of your future is a great place to start.
Listing out the consequences of inaction helps you paint a picture of a future state that you want to avoid at all costs.
Future self journaling is not going to guarantee that you attain the ideal life you want.
The key to success is in the execution.
But if you know exactly where you’re going, it’s going to be far easier to get there.