Use mental fitness to become your future self, starting today
By Bill Howatt
EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Mental Fitness: The next frontier in workplace mental health’ is a weekly series, in partnership with Dr. Bill Howatt of Howatt HR Consulting in Ottawa. This series takes a deeper look at mental fitness — an approach to prevent mental harm and promote mental health.
“Telling ourselves a story we do not want to be true can limit our imagination of what is possible in this lifetime.” – Dr. Bill Howatt
A dear friend told me a few weeks ago they cannot engage in an activity we both had enjoyed doing because they feel they are now too old.
My response was: “Too old? You are 10 years younger than I am. I still love this activity and have no plans to quit.” I caught myself from going into lecture mode, paused, and asked: “How did you decide you are now too old?”
They immediately shared a flawed story that they believed was true. After about five minutes of conversation, they concluded that what they were telling themselves was not true; they created an excuse to let themselves off the hook.
They felt they needed to be let off the hook because they have been trying to get back to this activity for the past few years, and with life and work, they did not find the energy to make it a priority. They created their flawed story about being too old.
The microskill of becoming your future self brings forward the benefits of noticing self-deception and proactively managing to create the future self we want, what we would like to improve that can positively impact our future self.
Do you make promises to yourself that you fail to keep, such as eating better, sleeping better, and improving your physical or mental health? Even with good intentions, you fail to do what you say you will do.
For example, you say you want to lose 20 pounds but do not change your diet because you rationalize poor micro-decisions. The excuses you tell yourself are the self-deception that can lead to the feeling you are failing, which keeps you trapped in old habits.
Creating your future self
Creating your future self requires noticing where you may be feeling trapped and what stories you’re telling yourself.
Look for self-deception that rationalizes why you are stuck. A new story begins with an awareness that changing self-deception starts with catching it. You can call out the false stories you tell yourself by noticing self-deception.
Daily practices for mitigating self-deception and creating the story for your future self require intention and accountability for micro-decisions. Accepting that you do not have to be perfect and changing old thinking and habits can take time — it seldom happens overnight.
Decide what you want to improve
Pick one part of your life you want to change about your future self. Be specific and clear on what it is and why you want it.
For example, you want to learn how to improve your diet, but you keep slipping off it and feel guilty each time. You feel trapped and tell yourself there is no way you can achieve your personal health goal.
Without judgment, notice what stories you are telling yourself and acknowledge how this self-deception can be keeping you stuck.
Decide what you will do
You can create your future self by setting small daily goals.
Avoid the urge to rush; pick small, manageable action steps. The goal is to develop a conscious intention to get you on the desired path for your future self.
Write in a journal the one or two things you will do to move you towards your future self.
Repeat this activity weekly, noticing how your self-deception is holding or fading. Once you are clear on what you will do and how you will monitor your progress, you are ready to move to action.
Remember to act
Do at least one activity each day that supports your future-self goal.
Expect challenges that may spark self-deception of why you cannot follow through on your actions. New habits and thinking are created through practice. The daily intention will train your brain to create a new story.
My friend came back to me last week after our first chat.
They told me they are now much more focused and use a blank scribbler as a daily journal. They take five minutes the first thing each morning with their journal to plan their daily intention and focus on how it will help them create their future self.
They noted that self-deception pops, and they are learning that taming it requires challenging it. It appears that they are discovering that they write their own story and can edit and rewrite it as they see fit.
Dr. Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR Consulting.
If there is a particular microskill or topic you would like to see Dr. Howatt write on that supports employees’ mental health in the workplace, please send your request to Talent Canada editor Marcel Vander Wier.
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