Monday, March 19, 2012

Visualizing a Future You

One of the biggest problems I've had in dealing with my chronic illness and its limitations, is seeing myself as someone I can admire. There were certain preconceived notions I had of where I would be at 38, and my vision was no where near where I actually ended up. Some things I dreamed of---having children from my own body---are impossible for me. It's really easy to look at my life and see how much I've lost. But that kind of thinking gets me nowhere: it's focusing on the negative rather than the positive. If you don't like where you are now, picture a future you that you can live with, and aim for that. Then current circumstances are only temporary hurdles on the road to a greater destination. The easiest way to do that is to visualize who I am to be in the future.

When I do this visualization process, I first think of how I want to feel. This woman that I am to become... how does she feel inside? More confidant? Calmer? Happier? More content? More patient? A little more cynical? More outgoing, more reserved, or a little of both? I make sure that the qualities of this future me are qualities I can live with. If she's not happy, I throw that visualization away and find a new one. There's no use imagining a future me that's miserable. This is supposed to be an exercise about where I want to go with my life. Aiming for unhappiness is not that! And our visualization process is exactly that: Aiming ourselves towards a better, future us.

After I get the feelings down, then it's usually easy to picture what she looks like: longer hair (because I'm growing mine out), a few more lines and grey hairs (but I don't mind), quick to laugh, but mostly quieter than I am now; more watchful. I picture her in more business attire. Somehow she's figured out how to get some income going again and I've got new suits to show for it. I don't know how she's done it, but don't have to know all the details! That's part of the fun... Figuring out how to make this stuff true!

Once I can picture her, I can start listing off the reasons why she is the woman who she is. I know what she does for a living gives her a great sense of purpose. I can see that life has been difficult during the last 10 years, and I don't know what she's been through, but that the trials have made her stronger. I see her working in her new chosen field, and being recognized for her efforts. I see her smiling at the praise, but with humility because she knows the journey was that of a thousand steps. She's been able to make new connections in life and new friends with this line of work. I see her in a convention hall as part of the event organization staff, the applause leaking in from the dining hall, for whomever is speaker at the dinner that evening. When I picture it, the event is important enough to be a cloth-napkin affair, and that thought makes me smile.

I imagine her in her off-time, too. She's enjoying hobbies that I like, but didn't bother with before, because I was too busy doing more physical things that are now out of my reach. She's physically active (so that I aim away from being a couch potato), but in a more disciplined, mature way. Her exercise is Tai Chi in the quiet hours around sunrise, not dancing at the clubs to ear-splitting music until 2am. She's quieter than I ever dreamed of being, because it's never something I wanted, more it was thrust upon me by my disease. But I can picture it a sophisticated quiet, rather than quiet from boredom or humdrum. There is plenty of excitement to be had on the intellectual level that doesn't require zooming about physically as well. There are plenty of adventures of the mind that don't require extreme sports for their thrills.

When I do this visualization process, and I'm able to come up with a future me that excites me, then I really have something to live for: myself! Whenever I start to feel discouraged, I can sit and think about her, my future self, and think about what I need to do to get me there. I make sure to never visualize myself as healthier. That's dangerous---it's a set-up for disappointment should something bad happen. Instead, I make sure I visualize her as broken as I am now, if not moreso. But, to keep myself from despairing over that fact, I envision her as fully capable of handling whatever it is she has going on. That starts me thinking along the lines of problem-solving rather than just problem-despairing. I look at her life (which is not an impossible goal) and wonder, "Okay, now how did she get there?" When that happens, I start thinking about options and opportunities, rather then obstacles.

What's amazing to me is when I have a future I can look forward to living, I start automatically doing a lot of self-care activities. One big things I notice is that I'm a lot better about taking care of things that have no real pay-off now, but will have huge pay-off in the long run. My teeth are especially easier to take care of: I want my future me to have good teeth she can enjoy (I don't picture dentures for my future me), so I feel a real incentive to be responsible now. I also get a lot better with my money: I'm able to say to myself, "No, we can't make that impulse buy, even though we want to. We've got plans, and those come first." It's easier to make small sacrifices now, even though my self-pity/inner child wants the quick emotional fix of a right-now purchase (even for something as small as a box of Tic Tacs). When I know I'm working towards a goal, it becomes easier for me to defer gratification. Yes, I want the Tic Tacs now. But that satisfaction will fade quicker than the orange, sugary, candy after-taste. If we want real, lasting satisfaction, let's go for this bigger, long-term goal, instead... Self-talk like this helps me enhance my patience with my desires-of-the-moment, and choose actions that are more beneficial overall.

Try it for yourself, and see what happens! 1) Picture a future you that you like and admire, who successfully lives with your disease. What do they look like? How are they different from you now? 2) Imagine what it feels like to be that person. What does it feel like when they laugh? What do they feel like when they've see a long, lost friend? How do they feel physically when they run across something that melts their heart? 3) Visualize them moving through their life. What do you see them doing? What do they do in their off-time? Given your current limitations, what have they figured out to do to get past them or make peace with them? 4) Ask yourself, is this someone I want to become? If not, revisualize your future self until you can answer: Yes. 5) Figure out how to get from here to there.

Good luck, and happy daydreaming!!


  1. This is a great post. I needed this.

    Just this morning I found myself struggling with limitations. I hate the word so I stuck a post it on my laptop that reads: Not limitations but alterations.

    A big challenge for me these days is that visualization of myself. It's funny that you wrote of picturing yourself in a business suit. That used to be how "armor" in my visualizations. I'd see myself in a sharp power suit. (and an awesome pair of pumps) Those were during my corporate business days...pre-diagnosis.
    My post diagnosis self doesn't have an image yet and your post helped me recognize that. Thanks!
    Ya can't achieve it if you can't even visualize it, right? Those little daydreams really do turn into glimpses into the future- I believe it. to daydreams I go...

  2. Yay!!! This totally made my day! I'm so happy I could help you! ^_^ *squee*