New to future-gifting? Begin here.

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Curious about what the term ‘future-gifting’ is and want to learn more? Well, you’re in the right place. Here we’ll introduce you to the basics

Welcome!

If you find yourself here, I’m guessing it’s because your curiosity has been piqued by the familiar-sounding, yet curious term ‘future-gifting’. And, being the curious type, you’d like to learn some more.

Well, you’re in the right place. 

This article will give you an introduction to the basics of future-gifting. 

Here you’ll learn:

This should provide you with enough information to get up and running and develop your practice of future-gifting.

As there’s no time like your present to get started, let’s begin…

What is future-gifting?

In its simplest form, future-gifting is the straightforward, instinctive act of doing something in the present to support yourself (or those around you) in the future.

You can think of it as a method, tool or framework. Or, simply, a way of engaging with the world. 

Before we look at a definition, here are just a few ways I’ve heard other people describe their practice of future-gifting: 

How other people have described future-gifting.

Future-gifting is all of these things, and probably more, depending on how and where you choose apply it. If you develop your own fresh interpretation, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

A definition of future-gifting

Ok, so let’s draw these strands together into a single, overarching definition: 

The act of “future-gifting” is to anticipate your future needs and wishes, and to do something practical in the present to help you more effectively meet them. 

Example one: a typical morning

Think about a typical morning in your busy household, which can be a chaotic start to the day. Your time can often be consumed by frenzied searches for misplaced books, shoes or keys, before you herd sleepy people out the door. 

Now, think about how you’ll likely experience this chaos tomorrow.

And now contemplate a different possibility.

Getting everyone promptly out of the door would mean you’d gain a few precious moments to compose yourself ahead of your own busy day at work. 

So, before going to bed, you clear your kitchen and pack bags ready for the following day. 

Result?

You wake the following morning to a clear kitchen in which to prepare breakfast. Bags are packed so your morning is made more pleasant by sleepy people readying themselves for the day ahead, rather than scrambling about for lost items. 

If you live in a busy household, you already know how these simple acts can transform your morning. Your start to the day improves from mild pandemonium to, if not perfect serenity, some semblance of calm.

Finally, you take a moment to thank yourself for making your morning begin more smoothly.

Example two: making a mark at work

Perhaps at work, you have an important regular client meeting coming up. You’re routinely prepared for the meeting’s main agenda. But, you’ve have noticed that the conversation frequently turns to wider topics of concern to the client that you feel less knowledgeable about. Your director always answers, but you feel a little awkward as you believe you have nothing concrete to contribute.

You spot a future need or wish: to have insight to add at the next meeting when this happens again. 

You take 20 minutes to pull out a few articles on those topics to read. You note down three key issues and three key facts on your phone. 

Result?

You are primed at the next meeting to show awareness of an issue that’s important to your client. You share your insight and ideas. Your director is also quietly impressed by your added contribution.

You give yourself a pat on the back for your earlier preparation.

What makes future-gifting powerful?

Now, you may well be thinking, how is future-gifting any different from my current toiling through a to-do list? 

Isn’t it just slapping a name tag on the thousands of acts I perform everyday – washing, cleaning, tidying, sorting, working? After all, these acts help me in my future?

Well, what makes future-gifting different is that it shifts your attention away from what can feel like the drudgery of having to do something in the present. Rather, it focuses your attention on the opportunity to serve your future needs and wishes.

It shifts your perspective from a sense of obligation or burden ( “I have to do this…I need to do that…I should do…X”) to a sense of opportunity: “I get to help my self in the future do this/do this better…I get the chance to help others out in the future.”

How does future-gifting do this?

Future-gifting gets you thinking about new possibilities for your future. 

  • It encourages you to imagine completely different approaches and alternate futures.
  • It invites you to think about new, efficient ways of doing your existing tasks. 

As you consider what your future might look like, you begin to imagine how you might experience these new possibilities in the future. Just like in the examples above. 

This is when your act of future-gifting starts to unlock some pretty remarkable things…

Future-gifting opens the door to some remarkable things
Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

It turns out that by performing an act of future-gifting, you are practicing a range of powerful life skills. 

These life skills are all busy at work each time you perform an act of future-gifting:

  1. Contemplating your future (known as “prospection”) 
  2. Empathy
  3. Self-control 
  4. Generosity
  5. Gratitude 

Contemplating your future

When you think about the future, you initiate your brain’s planning function. This develops your level of preparedness to meet future situations. Scientists call this “prospection”. This practice alone can help you lead a more meaningful life.

Empathy

When you think about your future and – crucially – how your future self will experience the events to come, studies have shown that your brain perceives your future self as it if were another person. This means that you are practicing a form of empathy (your ability to set aside your own views and standpoints, understand someone else’s and to step into their shoes).

Self-control

It turns out that when you practice empathy, you’re actually training the same skill set as you would to strengthen your self-control (your ability to place your present self’s desires behind those of your future self).

Generosity

The act of gifting yourself something – say, an extra 15 minutes of time to compose yourself, a packed bag, prepared talking points, etcetera – is practicing generosity. There is mounting evidence that generosity benefits our health and mental wellbeing, from combating stress to even lengthening our lifespans.

Gratitude

And finally, when your gift is metaphorically ‘unwrapped’ in the future, your future self will likely be pretty grateful to your current self for taking the time to support them. Practicing gratitude also brings with it a clutch of well documented social, mental and physical benefits.

How these practices work together for you

At its heart, future-gifting invites you to get to know your future self. It encourages you to see the world through their eyes. You begin to see them as a friend that you’d like to help. 

This practice of deepening empathy towards your future self presents a compelling ‘why’ to the question: “why should I take action right now?” 

The answer is in plain sight: “Because I get to help out my friend – the same friend who will help me out in the future.”

Instead of “I have to do something” without specifying for whom, you move to “I get to do something for my future self”. Suddenly you start to see situations in your life not as burdens, but as opportunities.

Future-gifting is a way to stir you into action in the present to better serve your future.

In parallel, practicing empathy sharpens your self-control, which makes overcoming resistance to action even easier.

Add to the mix a growing sense of generosity and gratitude, and your practice of future-gifting has established a cycle of positive-feedback. Empathy strengthens self-control, which triggers action, which brings about a sense of generosity, which sets up tomorrow’s pang of gratitude.

And what does this mean overall? 

Simple steps to shape your future, gratefully received.

How future-gifting works in 3 simple steps

You can start your practice of future-gifting in three simple and intuitive steps:

  1. consider your future: think about what’s coming up in your life in the coming days, weeks or months, and think about new possibilities, not just what’s planned or expected.
  2. anticipate your future needs and wishes: identify where a little extra support, preparation or resource will help ‘future you’ with what you anticipate is coming up and help you to build towards those new possibilities.
  3. gift your future: take simple steps today to help yourself in the future.

These three steps set up your gift.

Now, there’s one more important part of the future-gifting process to mention: the ‘unwrapping’.

When you unwrap and enjoy the benefits of your gift in the future (your tidy kitchen, your talking points, etcetera…), say a quick “thanks” to yourself for making it happen. Not only does this create a moment of gratitude, it carves a powerful link in your mind between your actions in the past and how they’ve set up your experience in the present.

You can apply this simple method to almost any setting in your life – personal or professional

From the micro of your everyday routine that you feel could benefit from a little fine tuning, to those career or life-defining macro-events, such as laying the foundations for your next job or booking that family holiday of a lifetime.

For example, you can apply future-gifting to any of the following personal or professional settings:

  • your immediate environment
  • your personal or professional development
  • your health or finances

You can apply it to others:

  • your partner, children, family and friends
  • your work colleagues – those you manage or as part of a project team
  • future-gifting the world – looking outwards to consider our impact in the wider world

You can apply it over a whole range of time periods:

  • to your immediate needs and wishes that might arise later today, tomorrow or this week
  • to your longer term-projects that might stretch out over a couple of months, years or even decades
  • to your ambitions beyond your lifetime – here, we’re talking about your legacy projects for the next generation and the generations after that

This gives you just a glimpse of future-gifting’s possibilities. Where in your life you apply future-gifting and the depth to which you explore is entirely up to you. You adapt it to your needs and circumstance. 

Wherever and however you chose to practice it, at its heart, future-gifting has three simple steps. Consider your future, anticipate your future needs and wishes, and gift something that will help better meet those needs and wishes (and be gratefully received by your future self!). 

Summary. And where to go next.

In conclusion, the act of future-gifting is:

to anticipate your future needs and wishes, and to do something practical in the present to help you more effectively meet them. 

Future-gifting encourages – and is fuelled by – a number of powerful practices which each hold a range of proven benefits. 

The practices – contemplating your future (known as “prospection”), empathy (which in turn strengthens your self-control), generosity and gratitude – are all busy at work each time you perform an act of future-gifting.

The future-gifting method establishes a kind of positive feedback loop whereby these practices begin to mutually reinforce one another. The result being, we find the reasons for our taking action more compelling and the barriers holding us back easier to overcome. In addition, we can find ourselves drawn into a heightened sense of generosity and gratitude.

This in turn shifts our outlook from one of drudgery and sacrifice, to one of opportunity to help our future self. 

At its heart, future-gifting has three steps: 

  1. consider your future
  2. anticipate your future needs and wishes 
  3. gift your future

The fourth step: when you unwrap and enjoy the benefits of your gift in the future: say thanks!

So, now you’ve grasped the basics, where will you future-gift first today?

To continue your journey… 

Further articles covering how to apply future-gifting in different areas of your life and in the lives of those around you – personally and professionally – will be published regularly. 

To be the first to hear about new articles and to make sure you don’t miss out, sign up to my newsletter. I promise it will be short, sharp and strive to help you serve your future well.

With thanks to Erik Holm on Unsplash for the cover photo.

Plan your future better by improving how you think

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