D is for Deciding To Shape Your Future Rather Than Simply Drift

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People sometimes come to a point in their lives when they decide to do their best to shape their futures. One person summarised the decision they took in the following way.

Six months ago I reached a stage when it was clear there were several routes I could take in my life.

The first option was to continue doing the same things. I had got used to the pain and found ways to temporarily numb it. This helped for a while, but then I fell into more negative cycles.

The second option was to get into the habit of doing things that gave me positive energy in my life and work. This would help me to feel happier and perhaps help other people.

The third option was to do something radical to completely change my life. There were several steps I could take to follow this route, but I was worried about the uncertainty.

I chose to take the second route and began to do more of the things I found satisfying. Being an organised person, this meant making a schedule for myself and planning the week ahead.  

My strategy was to do something positive early in the day. It then felt like I was setting the agenda, rather than having it set for me. Taking this approach also helped to integrate the good habits. I now feel ready to take the next step in my life.

Looking at your own life, can you recall a time when you made a decision to shape your future? You may have chosen to take more care of your health, develop a more fulfilling career, work towards achieving your life goals or whatever.

Looking to the future, there were several possible routes you could follow. Each choice had consequences, of course, with both pluses and minuses. Taking time out, you reflected for a while and, in the process, created more options.

Looking at the possible routes, you opted for your chosen way forwards. You could only do your best, of course, and nothing was guaranteed. But you followed your action plan and worked towards achieving your goal.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe when you made such a decision, the process you went through and the actions you took. It also invites you to describe what happened as a result of taking these steps.

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During the past 50 years I have worked with many people in teaching, mentoring and therapy situations. Much of the work has involved people making decisions about shaping their futures.

The work has often focused on helping people to build on their strengths, find solutions to challenges and achieve their picture of success. The first step has been to create an encouraging environment. The next step has involved helping individuals, teams and organisations:

To clarify their picture of success. 

To clarify their potential strategies for moving forwards and, when appropriate, to offer practical tools they could use to achieve their picture of success.

To clarify their chosen route forward and help them to achieve their picture of success. 

The work has involved providing people with more choices for shaping their future lives. When appropriate, it has also called for helping them to apply the knowledge in their own ways to achieve success.

Rick Snyder outlined the importance of expanding people’s repertoire of options in his book The Psychology of Hope. He described two aspects concerning a person’s ability to shape their future. These are:

Will Power

This is the person’s will to shape their future.

Way Power

This is the person’s ability to see ways to shape their future.

Imagine that you are normally a positive person. Sometimes you may feel confused or depressed, however, when facing a difficult challenge.

You still have a strong will to solve the issue, but you cannot see how to find a solution. Once you see a way through the problem, however, the cloud evaporates. Your sense of hope returns and you feel reinvigorated to tackle the challenge.

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We are often told that: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” But this phrase can be turned around to say: “Where there’s a way, there’s a will.” If people see a way forward, they are more likely to develop the will to make it happen.

This approach was explored in a workshop I ran recently. After looking at Rick Snyder’s work, one participant reported back that:

“One thing I learned during the session was the importance of Way Power. I can now see how it is possible to use that idea to help my team members and also my children.”

Good educators, mentors and advisors help people to expand their repertoire of choices. This increases people’s freedom to shape their futures.

Then comes the crunch. Looking at the possible ways forward, a person may commit to their chosen route. Accepting the pluses and minuses involved, individuals sometimes take the following steps.

They make a plan for following their chosen route and put this plan in a place where they can see it each day.

They get a quick success to build momentum and also do something early each day to pursue their chosen route.

They keep focusing on the following questions: “What are the real results I want to achieve? How can I do my best to achieve these results? When can I do these things to achieve the desired results?”

They encourage themselves by clarifying: a) The specific things I am doing well and how I can do more of these in the future; b) The specific things I can do better and how.

They keep following good habits, find solutions to challenges and do their best to achieve their picture of success.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of specific situation when you may want to decide about the route you want to take in the future?

You may want to change your lifestyle, take the next step in your career, work towards your life goals or whatever. Taking time to reflect, you consider the potential ways forward.

Bearing in mind your goal, what the possible routes you can follow? What are the pluses and minuses involved in each route? Which route do you want to follow? How can you follow your chosen route and work towards achieving your picture of success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation when you may want to decide about the route you want to take in the future. 

Describe the specific things you can do to make this decision and then translate it into action.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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