By Chris Chittenden
"The trouble with the future is that it usually arrives before we're ready for it.”
… Arnold Glasgow
Here is a simple question for you. What is the future?
I am not asking you to answer this question in terms of your future. Rather I am asking you to generically define the meaning of the word "future". Many of you will not have even considered this question before. After all, the future is simply the future. Some of you may hold a definition of the future as the time that lies before us, and this is a valid distinction of the future. Yet in a very fundamental way, holding such a general belief about the future is limiting.
Why is this? Well, consider a general view of the future in terms of change. To create a change within myself, I have to declare that I want to break an old habit and create a new one. For example, I could say that I want to change my eating patterns. A general view of the future leaves the future largely undefined. This means the future is like a fog into which we constantly step. As such, at this moment, I may want to change my eating pattern and, depending on the strength of this declaration, I may well do so for a period of time as I move through this fog. However, the way I am supporting this change in habit is somewhat weak and likely to dissipate over time. Hence the failure of most New Year resolutions! It is hard to keep the momentum of change going.
Now consider a different definition of the future. As you read this, you exist in a moment in time. Indeed, in a practical sense, we could look at time as a continuous series of moments. Using this idea, the future can be seen as a series of "future moments". The importance of this idea lies in the value of "distinctions". Human beings use distinctions to separate one thing from another and to understand why they are separate and how they interact. For example, I know that a car has an engine. I can open the bonnet of the car and point to the engine. However, that is as far as it goes for me. I am not able to distinguish the different parts of the engine and how they work together. As a result, I am not able to repair a car engine when it stops working. I know it is not working but do not have the capacity to repair it.
So it is with the future. If we see the future as simply time to come, we treat it as such. On the hand, if we distinguish the future as a series of "future moments" then this opens up new possibilities about how we deal with it. As a result, we can ask different and more powerful questions.
How can I anticipate how I will act in a future moment? What strategies can I apply in that moment? How will I have the awareness in that moment to not fall into my old pattern and make a different choice to create a new pattern?
This idea of the future goes beyond myself. If I am leading others, I can ask similar questions in relation to those I lead. How would I like people to act in future moments? What can I do to create awareness for them in those moments? And so on.
Our ontological approach to coaching embraces these ideas. Lasting change does not simply happen because we learn something new (get a new distinction) or decide that we will change. It involves the creation of new patterns at a neurological level. To do that requires that we take different action, not once, but multiple times until new neural pathways are created. By thinking of the future in terms of "future moments", we can put structure in place to help us take that different action repeatedly and create the habits we want in life.
© 2012 Chris Chittenden