I’ve been reading Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans lately as part of my Miracle Morning. It’s one the best and most information-packed books I’ve read in personal development; there’s just so much great stuff packed in there.
A few days ago, I read the interview with Shay Carl. What stuck in my mind was the section learning from your future self.
Think about how old you are right now and think about being a 10-year-older version of yourself. Then think, ‘what would I probably tell myself as an older version of myself?’
[If you do this exercise and then start living the answers,] I think you’re going to grow exponentially faster than you would have otherwise.
Don’t just read about the exercise, do it
I think I’ve heard this advice before, but I’ve never actually tried it. This exercise isn’t an exception, there are so many exercises I’ve read about but never tried. I’ve been a huge consumer of personal development content, but I’ve only tried an exercise or technique now and then—even when I feel motivated to do the exercise.
I just find it hard to do an exercise sometimes. I know it will be worth it, but it requires effort and consuming personal development content doesn’t.
I know, it’s not all bad to just consume. Because I now have a vast collection of tools, exercises, and ideas I can use, or suggest to people. But for me to grow, I have to put in the work.
Stop and do the exercise
I would suggest to you. Stop. Don’t read the rest of my article, instead do the exercise. It will be worth it. If you write down a piece of advice that takes max 30 seconds to say, it doesn’t have to take hours to write an answer. More like 2–10 minutes.
Yes, it does require a bit more effort than reading the rest of the article. But it will take less time since this post is quite long.
Ask yourself, what do you have to gain from doing the exercise? Probably more than reading the rest of my article. You’ve probably, like me, read about a lot of exercises, but thought to yourself when reading about them; “I’ll don’t have to do them” or “I’ll do them later.” Guess what, later never comes 99% of the time. At least that’s what I’ve noticed from my own behavior. And the usual “I don’t have the time” doesn’t work in this article as it will take less time to do the exercise than reading the rest of the article.
Remember few things are as important as taking action instead of consuming.
Remember, rewards come in action, not discussion. — Tony Robbins
If you feel like it, you can answer with something longer than a 30-second answer. That, however, will take more time. You might get a better answer out of that; you might not.
Stop reading now
I won’t decide for you, I don’t like being told what to do. So you probably don’t either. I, personally, just found the exercise invaluable. Probably the best one I’ve done this year. So here are a few questions to help you with the decision.
- What do you have to gain from doing the exercise?
- Why do or don’t you want to do it?
- What do you have to gain from reading the rest of the article instead of doing the exercise?
- If you’re telling yourself an excuse for not doing the exercise. Is it valid?
Don’t have anything to write on? Here’s a text box you can start writing on, but don’t forget to copy and save the text.
Just filling up space so that the rest of the text won’t distract you.
Scroll down to continue reading.
Plan to follow your advice
So you have a 30-second answer (or longer), now what? Advice is useless unless followed.
So what can you do to follow your advice? First, you might need to make your advice SMART. I’ll give you a quick summary in the next sections.
You probably want to keep the original text you wrote, since that will speak to you more clearly. You can then go back to that text when you’re second-guessing why you’re following this advice.
Second, you need to create your plan for taking action and doing things differently. Again, as Tony Robbins puts it:
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
You need to get out of your comfort zone and do things that might require some effort.
SMART goal setting
If your advice contains words such as more, less, better, happier, or other similar words, then it’s tough to work towards that goal. For example, be more vulnerable. How can you tell if you’re more open or vulnerable a month in the future? What is your end goal?
The SMART goal setting tool can help you with that. While doing this exercise, try to use the voice of your older and wiser self.
What is it that you want to achieve?
One way to get a clear goal is using Steve Pavlina’s movie screen exercise.
An example from Steve; if you want to travel more, is there any way you can project that onto a movie screen? No one knows how travel more would look on a movie screen.
But if I were to say: I want to stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower with my girlfriend looking over Paris on a summer day. Everybody can see how that scene will play out. You can now start planning for that because you know that you want to travel to Paris, go up the Eiffel Tower, and do this during the summer.
Just picking a country to travel to isn’t enough. What will you do (there), where, when, how, why, with whom?
A trickier example
What if you got the advice to be more vulnerable and just be yourself in situations. Again, that scene is hard to picture.
Start with visualizing an interaction you’ve had maybe in the last week. How could you have been more vulnerable and yourself in that situation?
- Maybe you didn’t give a compliment being afraid that it would be awkward.
- Maybe you wanted to talk to more people at that event, but you were afraid you’d run out of things to talk about with the other person.
- Maybe you wanted to get to know a person more, but you are worried that it will be awkward or they won’t appreciate it.
Know we have some specific movie screen examples of how you want to act instead in future situations.
- You want to be able to give compliments freely that are appreciated without fear of it being awkward (because if it becomes awkward, you know you can handle it).
- You can start a conversation with anyone you want to talk to at an event while being yourself. (Okay, this one needs a bit more of polish. How does “being yourself” look like?.) You can start a conversation with anyone you want to talk to at an event. During the conversation, you are genuinely interested in the person; you ask questions that you want to know and you’re not afraid of asking wrong questions. And you share your unfiltered views (i.e., you don’t say things so that they can like you; if you disagree with something you have a discussion.)
- You’re not afraid of asking a person if they’d like to take a lunch or do another activity together because you know that you can handle a no and there’s a lot of other interesting people in the world 🙂
You now have specific goals to work towards. Preferably start with one of the three, and focus on that first.
You now have a specific advice or goal. Next up we want some way of measuring our progress, so we know that we’re making progress (and don’t trick ourselves that we’re making progress when we’re just standing still). And of course, we want to know when we’ve accomplished our goal.
It can be a bit tricky for fuzzy goals like “You want to be able to give compliments freely that are appreciated without fear of it being awkward (because if it becomes awkward, you know you can handle it).”. And quite easy for goals like “I want to be able to squat 200 kg.”
Making the goal measurable can also contribute to making your goal even more precise.
For a piece of advice like “travel and see more of the world.” Then, in addition to setting out where you want to travel, how you want to travel, etc., you would want to have an end goal that is measurable, for example:
- Be abroad 100 days during the year
- Visit 1 new country and be in at least 6 different countries (excluding my home country) every year
- Have a job where I can work anywhere in the world
If you start next year, you can see how many countries you’ve been in, how many days you were abroad. If you didn’t reach your goal, you probably learned a few lessons so that you can work and come closer to your goal the year after.
A trickier example
Let’s take the example “You want to be able to give compliments freely that are appreciated without fear of it being awkward (because if it becomes awkward. you know you can handle it).” How can we make this measurable? An example would be
- Give a compliment 95% of the times you want to give a compliment
- Give at least 10 compliments each week to someone else than my spouse
Moreover, it can be good to measure the success rate of well-received compliments. Because you probably want to get better at giving compliments in a way that makes the other person happy.
- Compliments are well-received 95% of the time.
Is the goal achievable, or have you set a way too high goal for yourself?
I’m all for shooting at the stars and setting ridiculously high goals. I would personally keep my goal that’s among the stars. But I would also break the goal into something that’s just out of reach for the moment.
If you want to be abroad 100 days, visit 1 new country, and be in at least 6 different countries every year. Then you can make a goal of being abroad for 14 days (if you’ve never been abroad) and just visit 1 new country in the first year. The next year, you set a goal for 30 days, and 2 new countries. Then work your way up to your final goal.
There is, however, a danger of splitting your goal into several smaller bits. To go from 0 days abroad to 100 days in one year is totally doable, many people have done that. But to do that you have to think differently and come up with a non-conventional way of traveling. When you split your goals into small manageable chunks, you tend to lose the ability to come up with non-conventional answers. Be aware of this.
How much time, money, and responsibility do you got?
In essence, what you should ask is how much time, money, and responsibility do you have in your life.
Don’t you have any time? Can you create more time during the day? Track your activities during the day in a notebook, or with the Toggl App. You’ll be surprised of how much time you spend (and maybe waste) on some activities.
Either way, see how much time you can devote to the working towards the goal. Just don’t try to cram it in your day leaving wiggle no room or no room for leisure.
Be reasonable. I’ve found that if I estimate that I have 5 hours I can spend to work towards an activity, which usually averages 2.5 hours since I don’t do it every week as I might have other priorities that week, or I might just need to take a break.
Halve your time.
Do you have the money? Can you afford to travel like you want to, or is there another way you can travel for free. Many people have traveled the world for free (just Google “travel the world for free”).
Most things can be done differently for free. But you’re always trading away something then. Something you might want to trade away, or something you might not want to. If you don’t, do you have the money to accomplish your goal?
Finally, do you have responsibility for someone? Do you have kids, a spouse, old parents, job, or clients with a working contract? Then you might want to work it out so that it works for everyone. You can probably make it work, but sometimes you cannot and must make a compromise or chose one way.
I won’t cover this aspect because if you got the advice from your 10-year-older self, it’s hopefully highly relevant.
Finally, set a deadline to when you are fully following your advice, and if you set a smaller goal set a time limit for that one too. But be sure to make it attainable.
Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years. — Bill Gates
If you notice that you’ve taken water over your head, feel free to change the deadline.
Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with deadlines. I find half of the time deadlines spur me to work very effectively and efficiently. But the other half of the time they can also overwhelm me which makes me stressed, anxious, and unable to work. So pay attention to how you’re feeling, are you moderately stressed but at the same time excited. It’s probably a good deadline. But if you begin to feel stressed and anxious it might be the time limit is too close in the future. But it might also be a mindset problem as I’ve found myself stressed over a deadline and then a few days later not feeling any stress at all, just excitement.
That’s why I have this love-hate relationship; sometimes it just works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it works for a while.
How to take action
You now have a SMART advice, and it’s time to take action. To take action can be the hardest part for some people, I included. Especially if I don’t know where to start. But this is where The Power of Taking Small Steps works well (sometimes, continue to read to see why it doesn’t always work). If you often find yourself that it’s hard to start, I’d recommend reading that article 🙂
The basic idea is to take a small step forward each time. Don’t try to plan your whole journey forward, just take the next step. Focusing on your next step and doing that also ties into envisioning your current and next steps, which I discussed in What I Learned From Running 17.5 km & How To Accomplish Your Goals.
There are a lot of other techniques on how to take action. One that works for many is the 5-second rule by Mel Robbins.
Another one is to plan out roughly all your high-level steps in advance, then go into one of those and split it into smaller steps. I know, this is the opposite advice of The Power of Taking Small Steps. But there’s no one answer for everyone and every situation. I wish there were, but sometimes I have to take small steps, sometimes I have to plan out the whole thing in advance before I can take action (although planning in itself is taking action).
Finally, a list of tasks and steps, and doing things single-handedly often works well for me.
You can Google on lots of different ways to take action. But remember, researching how to act is not taking action in itself; you still have to put in the work and go outside of your comfort zone.
My older self’s advice (long version)
(Foreword: You don’t have to write as much as I did. As you will see I’ll get the core advice in the first paragraph. I could’ve stopped there, but I wanted to continue since I love to journal.)
(This section is unedited. I’ll just let the words flow through me. A bit scary to see what my older self’s advice)
Matteus, you don’t have to be scared. Everything will work out just fine. You can allow yourself to be you. Just let go, and see how the world will be brighter and happier place to be in. You don’t have to appear perfect, even though you really want to be perfect. My advice is to be perfectly imperfect. Practice making fun of yourself, go outside of your comfort zone, and just let go. It’s truly a wonderful feeling. I know you will achieve this because here I am, a 10-year-older version of you.
I know that you’re worried about your business, your blog, how everything will turn out. But here I am. Everything worked out just fine. You’re have launched a lot of successful products and helped a lot of people grow. You have many awesome friends because I see the people who follow me as friends. I know you want to see them as friends as well, but there’s something blocking you, making you unable to do so at the moment. Just keep trying, and you will get it right.
“I want to know how my business looks like in 10 years, can you tell me more?”
Yes, I can. I just finished a large workshop in Singapore, with about 1000 attendees. It was truly amazing and fun to do. I can’t wait for you to try it. I still have my own schedule and can sort of decide when to do things. But I also have these big and small workshops spread out over the year. I have released a few #1 New York Times bestsellers.
“Can you tell me the titles?”
(I’m a bit worried about releasing the titles publicly since then I might not be able to use those titles when I become successful. But I got two titles. And I’ve written them down.)
[…], but these two aren’t your only titles. You’ve written a few books before those. While the others are really good, these two are exceptional.
“Do you have more advice?”
Not really, the other things are just the small stuff. Continue working on yourself. But like I said, don’t be too harsh on yourself if you aren’t perfect and work on being yourself in every situation, including when giving speeches. That will make your whole life much easier and better. In relationships, at work, with your friends, with the universe, and most importantly with you.
When you have accomplished this, every area of your life will just fall together quite neatly. Just don’t get me wrong, there will still be dark times. But they will come less often, and less deep. You trust yourself even in the dark times. And know that there’s always light on the other side.
“Do you have any advice on being productive and not slacking off?”
I’d say, see my answer above 😉 I know it can be hard sometimes, but as I mentioned that will make everything else much easier. But. If you find yourself without any inspiration and don’t want to work (I know this will happen, because I’ve been through those times). Be forgiving, take a break, or just do your one thing for the day. Also, don’t be so fixated on having enough time to do anything. Just jump into one thing and do that, indulge yourself into that passion or field. Let other things come second when you do. Except maybe relationships, do make those a priority to keep them. But if you want to work during the evening, do so. If you want to start programming, do so. If you want to work towards a goal, do so. If you want to play video games for a whole week, do so.
“But what about when I have multiple things I want to do. For example, at the moment I want to do a lot of things. I want to play a lot of Destiny 2. I want to start programming my courses for WordPress. I want to launch a product. I want to program other stuff. I want to improve myself. I want to start looking for more friends close by. I want to get better at speaking. I want to improve my relationship with my current friends. And so on. I just don’t have the time to do everything.”
You know, I don’t know the answer to that. But what has worked for me is to do whatever I feel most passionate and excited about doing, and then doing that.
“As you said that I noticed I have a fear of missing out if I pick something. And what usually ends up happening is that I decide to play games, because that’s easiest to do.”
Well. Then journal about why you want to do the different things, and the first step you can take to start. Maybe actually the first few steps, so you got some solid hours of stuff to do.
That’s all I have to say, and I can see that you’re satisfied with my answers. So see you in 10 years 🙂 Bye!
That was interesting. I didn’t think I was going to have a conversation with my future self. I expected to get around 3–5 pieces of advice. But I only got one, maybe two if you stretch it a bit.
Work on being myself and allow me to be imperfect, both which are similar.
It was also rather cool to be able to ask questions. Especially ask for the book titles. That gives me a sense of the direction I’m heading in.
The advice, however, isn’t concrete and hard to apply in everyday situations. You can’t just say “be yourself” and expect it to work. So I need to make it SMART.
A SMART advice
To reiterate my goal: Work on being myself and allow myself to be imperfect.
Why do I want to be myself? I want to be myself because I feel alive when I can and show who I truly am. To be able to display all my feelings and don’t hold anything back. To not be perfect, not be strict, not be serious all the time. I am those things, but I am not only those things. I’m also goofy, playful, and a whole lot of other things. I.e., I’m not one-dimensional. And when I can express all my sides I am happy, I am a better person, and I honestly think I’m for fun to be around.
With whom do I want to be myself? Do I want to show that side to everyone, or just a few? Do I always want to be me? My first step is to be myself when I’m around friends and family. Or maybe that isn’t the first step since that can be hardest sometimes (if I have been in a certain way with them before, and now they see a different me).
How will the movie screen look? One example where I had trouble being myself was when I just want to be spontaneous publicly—like dancing down the street when I’m happy.
1. When I feel an urge to do something in public that doesn’t hurt someone else, instead, it might make someone’s day. Follow that urge. E.g., dance down the street, greet people, give out compliments, and start a conversation.
I’d like to split this into two sorts of events:
- Where I only know a few people
- Where I’m friends with everyone or nearly everyone
When I’m at an event where I only know a few individuals the struggles are similar to those in public; maybe not dance down the street, but start a conversation and give out compliments. And while having those conversations be myself. So how would it look like to be me during a conversation? If the other person is sharing their story, I am super curious about them, I am present, and I ask a lot of questions I find interesting. If I have something I’m excited about and want to share, I share it with passion and emotion. If I’d like to become friends with the person, I’d say something along the lines of “I find you interesting to be around, do you want to take a fika sometime?”
There are exceptions when I’m not curious and just want to be left alone, that’s when I’m low on energy. On those occasions, I’m fine with not starting conversations and being to myself. But those situations are quite rare. Most of the time I’m just scared or keeping myself occupied to do something else.
2. When I’m at an event be curious, strike up conversations with friends and strangers, ask a lot of questions, share interesting things I’m excited or passionate about or difficult things that are happening in my life.
On events where most or all people are my friends I still find it difficult to strike up conversations. Or at least steer the conversation into something that might be a bit deeper. Talking about games with my gaming friends is super easy, talking about other things, not so easy.
It’s not that I don’t like talking about games, it’s just that I want to have a bit of variation and get to learn the other person deeply through ideas, struggles, and other things.
So in one sense, I’d like to ask deeper questions, how are they doing, do they have any troubles. But also share my obstacles and challenges because most times you have to start by opening up yourself to other people before they open up to you.
I know that it might be a bit awkward to open up to quickly to some people. But I’d like to learn to be able to do that without it being awkward or at least minimize the number of times it happens, and mitigate the uncomfortable situation for the other person when it happens.
3. Find a way to be myself, express myself, and to be goofy. If I want to share or ask something, I do it, even if I’m afraid I do it just to be me.
With a platonic friend
How would it look to be authentic when I’m with a platonic friend? What are my struggles? I often have something I want to share or ask, but which I’m scared to do. So in those situations, I would instead share or ask those things. Make the conversation deeper. It’s not that I always want to do that, but that I’m able to take action and do when I want to.
4. If I want to share something with a friend or ask them anything, I do that. E.g., ask if they are struggling, share that I’m struggling, share things that are going great, and not so great, etc. If I’m interested in making the friendship into non-platonic, I bring that up.
With a partner or a non-platonic friend
As I’m thinking of what to write next, I notice this is the hardest section to write. Maybe because this is the part I feel most ashamed of and where I haven’t made much progress in the last year.
I still find it hard to initiate sex, to try new things, but most importantly to let go. I’m so much in my head, and I have a hell of a hard time letting go and just be. I want things to be perfect. And I don’t want to go beyond someone’s boundaries, which in turn makes me take the safest way or have to ask about most things. There are so many insecurities here I could bring up, but that deserves a whole article in itself.
At the same time, I’d like to pat myself on the back, because I have made progress, not just as quick as I’d wanted.
To be myself in these situations, I have to trust myself. I have to be able to go through the fear; I have to be willing to take the initiative; I have to be okay with something going wrong, and not pay much attention to it. I’m noticing that there’s a lot of “I have to” in there. I don’t like to phrase something as “I have to,” so I’ll change the wording.
5. I trust myself. I’m able to go through the fear and take the initiative. If something goes wrong, it’s okay; I don’t have to focus on what went wrong. I let go of myself, and whatever happens, everything will be all right; I trust the other person. If I have any struggles and challenges, I share those.
Of course, the things that apply to non-platonic friends also apply here. Like being able to ask questions, share great and not so great things, etc.
The above might seem like a lot of thoughts and text for the S in SMART; I agree, it is a lot of text.
Sometimes when I do similar exercises, I end up with a wall-of-text. Usually, this happens when I want to do it “correctly,” or I’m a flow and I’m passionate about writing and figuring out things. But by no means, I do this every time. In fact, as I wrote the last piece, I was getting tired of writing in that very structured way.
I often find the Specific part of SMART to take the longest since that lays the groundwork for all the other parts.
Focus on one area
You might be tempted to improve all areas of your life at the same time. I sure am extremely tempted to do this. But this rarely works. Multiple other people and I have tried and failed. Or to be precise, it rarely works to focus and make a lot of progress in more than one area at the time. It’s better to fully focus on one area, then move to the next.
In my case, I would focus on only one of the five different areas, and maybe just a part of the area. But as I have another focus in my life—to get up at 6:30 am every day—I won’t be able to tackle any of these areas head-on before I’m comfortable getting up at 6:30 am again.
Take a small step
I can, however, take small steps during the time, but not hold myself accountable to follow through every time. This is the idea with the power of taking small steps I mentioned earlier. If I just take a small step every time, I’ll be well on my way to make my goal. I don’t have to put a lot of effort, and I don’t have to make tremendous progress in a short amount of time.
The focus is to take action consistently and just barely go outside of your comfort zone, and sometimes not outside your comfort zone at all. There are a lot of different ways you can do this. For example, I might want to do this for 2. When I’m at an event be curious, strike up conversations with friends and strangers, ask a lot of questions […]
- Instead of trying to be curious, striking up conversations, asking lots of questions, sharing, etc. I focus on one or two of these things until I’m comfortable with them. Like striking up new conversations.
- Have the next step ready. Instead of being spontaneous at the event, have an easy plan for what you’re going to do. Preferably something that almost seems way too easy. Like going up to one stranger and asking a prepared question. This step should be measurable; you should be able to tell if you did complete or not. “Talk with a stranger” might be too vague, but it could also be a clear goal for you. A more precise and measurable goal could be “Have a conversation with a stranger about anything for at least 30 seconds”.
- Be spontaneous. While I find it easiest to have a pre-planned goal and next step, it’s impossible to plan for everything. Sometimes an opportunity might arise at the moment. For example, if you go to a show which you wouldn’t socialize with anyone except those you’re there with. The host might ask for someone to come up to the stage. You can take this opportunity to talk to a stranger, although in a bit of a scripted way. So you raise the hand and wait to see if you’re going to get picked.
Sometimes it might be hard to see how things will bring you closer to your goal, but the road is rarely straightforward and taking one step forward will take you to another location with a different view. In that place, you might see something that was hidden from your earlier view, which in turn will take you closer to your goal.
Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based
As I mentioned, I’m focused on getting up on time at the moment. Thus I won’t go through the other parts of SMART for myself (except relevant, and it’s highly relevant). Why? Previously, I’ve set goals, made those measurable and set deadlines. But after I’ve completed another area of my life those measurements and deadlines are often out of date since I’ve made incremental improvements through small steps. Thus I have to redo those anyways. So nowadays, I often stop after I’ve made the goal specific. Because that helps me take small steps forward towards following my own advice.
What’s your 10-older self’s advice to you?
If you do the exercise, please tell me about it in the comments below. Did it work? How was it? What advice did the 10-year older you give to your current self?
Resources and Links
- Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
- Miracle Morning article
- Shay Carl (Twitter, Instagram, YouTube)
- Toggl App
- The Power of Taking Small Steps
- What I Learned From Running 17.5 km & How To Accomplish Your Goals article
- Mel Robbins’ 5-Second Rule
- Why Am I Afraid To Be Authentic And Show My True Self? article
At the moment my highest excitement is to help others, so I'm offering coaching calls if there's anything you feel you need help with, however big or small. Check out my coaching page for more info 🙂