What You Gain with a Future-Focused Brain

Do you want to keep growing, keeping your life meaningful, interesting and fun? Is part of your job as a leader or coach to help others see their careers flow instead of stagnate? If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, you need set your brain to focus on the future.

Knowing where life is going takes more than an annual review or composing a list of New Year’s resolutions. Keeping your eye on the path should be done in frequent short conversations about what is changing and what is possible.

According to Beverly Kaye and Judy Winkle Giulioni, authors of the new book, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, there are three types of conversations you can have to prompt, guide, reflect, explore, activate enthusiasm and drive action focused on development.

  1. Hindsight conversations where you look backward and inward to determine what most energizes and inspires good work.
  2. Foresight conversations looking forward and outward toward changes, trends and the ever-evolving big picture.
  3. Insight conversations where hindsight and foresight converge, shining a light on the best possibilities in the future based on who you are, what you love, and what you do well.

The three conversations are essential because we often make decisions out of fear or frustration instead of by mapping a way forward. Too often, we look at what is popular today without considering 1) who we are at our best and what we most love to do and 2) what will stand out as being more important tomorrow than today.

The conversations can be used for self-discovery as well as to develop others. In today’s world, retention, engagement and productivity depend on people feeling their careers are in flow. These small and regular conversations will decrease the gossip, worrying and complaining that occurs when people aren’t sure about where they are going.

Even in self-discovery, it is good to have a “thinking partner” to have these conversations with. A coach, colleague or friend who wants the best for you can help you stand back and answer questions focused on your future that will continually challenge and satisfy you.

Kaye and Giulioni say the frequency of the conversations is important. “When you reframe career development in terms of ongoing conversations rather than procedural checkpoints or scheduled activities, suddenly you have more flexibility and the chance to develop careers organically, when and where authentic opportunities arise.”

In Help the Grow or Watch them Go, the authors provide powerful questions for each of the conversations, provoking reflection, insight, constructive discomfort, and ultimately, action. All it takes to use their questions is having a genuine curiosity. “Curiosity might be the most under-the-radar and undervalued leadership competency in business today,” say Kay and Giulioni. Yet cultivating a true sense of wonder can ignite your own enthusiasm as well as the energy of others.

Constant questioning can stimulate creative tension as it brings up uncertainty about the future. Yet when it comes to our lives, few people live peacefully in a comfort zone. You are either moving forward or feeling stuck and a failure. As a coach, I have experienced many times how a period of contemplation following a thoughtful and powerful question eventually sparks answers and fuels a sense of forward motion.

Consider these questions:

1. Looking at your past, what has disappeared from your ambition and desires? If you allow these to go, what opens up for you instead?

2. When someone you know introduces you to a stranger, how do they describe who you are and how you stand out? How can you apply these traits and expertise even more powerfully in the future?

3. What do most people around you complain about not being able to do? Is there a way you can help them get what they need?

4. When you look at what is possible for you in the future, what would you most regret not trying?

Keep a notebook to jot down moments where you feel truly joyful and inspired. These are clues you can use when calculating your future.

Notice when others experience these moments. Take the opportunity to ask them how they can design their future to repeat these experiences.

Weave these questions and ideas into your thoughts and conversations. Hope is both a wonderful emotion to feel and a great gift to give to others.

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