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  • Roz Duffy

Designing a “Future You:” A journey of self-discovery and growth

How can imagining our future selves help us through times of transition? Team coach, facilitator and creative strategist Roz Duffy explores using Intentional Change Theory (ICT) as a tool to help you design a "Future You".

A person standing in a field watching the sunrise
Photo by Warren on Unsplash

Not long ago, I came across a social media post about imagining your future self. It included some reflective journaling prompts and a certain hopefulness for what is possible. I shared it with a friend who was going through some life transitions, thinking it might be interesting or helpful to her. She appreciated it and said it reminded her a lot of Intentional Change Theory (ICT). 


This sparked my curiosity. As a coach familiar with various frameworks for change, I’m always eager to find new rabbit holes to explore! I quickly realized that many of the personal-growth tools, strategies, and frameworks I use and am familiar with fell perfectly into each of the five steps in ICT. I set about creating my own super-charged version; a grand mashup of frameworks I'm calling “Future You." Yes, you.  

ICT was developed by Richard Boyatzis, a professor at Case Western University. In a nutshell, it looks something like this: 

  1. Discover your ideal self  

  2. Understand your current self 

  3. Create a learning agenda 

  4. Experiment with new habits 

  5. Bring people on your journey 

When it comes to designing our future self, we have many possibilities and options. Let’s walk through the five steps of the ICT framework together and explore.  


1. Discover your ideal self: The art of prospection 


What does your “Future You” look like? Are they more confident, more connected to their work, or perhaps more creative? This is where prospection comes in, allowing us to time-travel in our own stories. Prospection is the imagining of potential futures, also known as planning and daydreaming. Studies show that this kind of thinking has a real impact on how we move about the world. 


Dreaming up potential futures can be done in a number of ways. Perhaps this looks like a vision board, freewriting, or listening to a guided meditation that encourages you to envision a future version of yourself.  


If you’re looking for a more concrete example, you might enjoy creating some Odyssey Plans from the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (check out our review here.) Odyssey Plans suggest creating three potential life paths: the path that you’re currently on, a path you are curious about, and a path that is in your wildest dreams. This is an exercise in creativity and unleashing your imagination. Chances are, you won’t want to stop at three, and that is okay, or perhaps even better. The book gives much more guidance on the next steps to take, but this Odyssey Plan exercise should give you a head start. 


We’re reading Designing Your Life for our book club this month—join us! 

A person looking at a vast nightscape
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

2. Understand your current self: Time for a reality check 


Once you have your future paths laid out, it's time for a reality check. Where do you stand now compared to “Future You?” This would be a great time to look at your life and observe it without judgment. This may look like gathering any personal assessments that you’ve done, or would like to do, such as StrengthsFinder, Enneagram, etc.  


Pssst: We’ve recently launched the Meaningful Work Survey, a research-backed assessment designed to help you uncover what really motivates you in your pursuit of a more fulfilled work life. Currently available only in the US. 


During this “reality check” stage, it can be helpful to engage in mental contrasting, where we compare our ideal future to our current reality. It's important to fully embrace the positive aspects of this ideal future while simultaneously identifying and acknowledging the obstacles present in our current situation. Doing so has a grounding effect and helps us plan to overcome these obstacles, increasing our chances of success. This isn’t about giving up on ourselves, it’s about creating positive change with a plan in place. 


Gabriele Oettingen, Professor of Psychology at New York University, developed this strategy along with WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) a helpful framework for making those dreams a reality! 


3. Create a learning agenda: Bridging dreams and reality 


With a clear understanding of where you are and where you want to be, it's time to build a bridge between the two. What do you need to learn or experience to make the “Future You” a reality? This could involve deepening your expertise, exploring new interests, or even pursuing certifications.  


Don’t be shy about enlisting the help of AI in designing a personal syllabus. A tool like ChatGPT or Claude can be a helpful thought partner in mapping out your studies for the short and long term.  


You might also consider visiting a local library or bookstore or wandering through a museum. Open yourself up to new experiences that will unlock your hidden potential. It’s so easy for us to get stuck in ruts or feel overwhelmed by the “too much” nature of social media and world news. Go analog and allow your senses to be captivated. See what you notice. 


It can be helpful to tap into your curiosity and set some mini goals for yourself, like attending a talk, reading a chapter of a book, subscribing to an interesting newsletter, or trying a new hobby. Plenty of free resources are out there. Be your own curator and learning designer and see what you discover! 

A man looking at books in a library
Photo by Devon Divine on Unsplash

 4. Experiment with new habits: The adventure of change 


Transitioning to “Future You” involves experimenting with new habits. This stage is like trying on different outfits – some will fit perfectly, others won't. Just like you do with your personal wardrobe, you can keep what you need and donate what doesn’t work. 


Habit stacking, for instance, is a powerful technique. If your morning routine is well-established, consider adding a short meditation or journaling session. Want to learn while exercising? Listen to a podcast or audiobook during your walk or run. The key is to make habit formation as seamless as possible. 


If you’re trying to eliminate habits that might be standing in the way of your future self, find ways to make the unwanted habit really difficult. For example, if scrolling on your phone is getting in the way of learning (or other adventures), consider getting an app/website blocker for your phone. Put an obstacle between you and the habit that is standing in your way. 


Draw inspiration from Atomic Habits by James Clear and Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg for more practical tips. You’ll find out quickly that you are not alone in the journey of establishing meaningful habits that take you closer to your desired future state. 


5. Bring people on your journey:  The power of community 


As we approach the final step of the Intentional Change Theory journey, it’s important to recognize that all of this becomes easier and more possible when we find our people along the way. In seeking out who should come along on the journey, look for people who will uplift you, and vice versa. Ask for what you need and what kind of feedback would help you. Avoid naysayers and those who might bring you down (e.g. the old crabs in a bucket mentality). 


Be open to finding community in unexpected places. Perhaps your learning agenda includes a small cohort that becomes a powerful source of connection. Looking for the energy of others that you don’t know so well? Check out body doubling, a productivity strategy for folks with ADHD, that helps you get more done just by sharing space with another person. This space could be virtual too. FocusMate allows you to find people all over the world at practically any time of day to help you move through your journey of change. 


Take stock of who is in your life and who you need in your life to make your future self a reality. It’s a big world out there, and your people are waiting to join you on your adventure. 


Embracing your story 


Designing “Future You” is an exhilarating adventure. It's a blend of dreaming, planning, and action; filled with learning and personal discoveries. Every step you take is a part of your unique story. 


Approaching it with enthusiasm, imagination, and a little groundedness should get you pretty close to the future self you’re dreaming of. Remember to stay open to the unexpected surprises that may unfold along the way. 


And for a fun, reflective exercise, write a letter to your future self, as far in the future as you’d like. You can do this with paper and pen, or send yourself an email. It’s a creative exercise that is sure to bring you a new perspective when it finds its way back to you. 


Wishing you all the best on your journey to meet “Future You.” 



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