When working the steps in 12-Step programs, we do a lot of writing. The first step requires us to write about our sordid past (and often current) behaviors in order to drive home the concept of powerlessness. Step 4 requires a written inventory of our past and current resentments and character defects so we can surrender them to God. In step 8, we make a list of all of the people we have harmed—and that can require a lot of writing—to prepare to make amends to them.
These are very valuable exercises with great outcomes, but it occurred to me that not much writing is done about the future. What are my desired outcomes and what kind of a person do I want to be? I know where I have been, where I am now, but where am I going? Where do I want to go? Who do I want to become?
I am particularly concerned about this because I am aware of the stalled progress I sometimes see in my 12-Step program. There are people with decades of recovery that still seem to be stuck and give the impression of “just getting by.” There are still others that can’t seem to get their recovery off the ground after years in the program.
Being “stuck in a rut” isn’t unique to 12-Step programs; we often see it in churches as well.
That is why Personality Isn’t Permanent by Dr. Benjamin Hardy was such a revelation for me. In it, he challenges the idea that our personalities are fixed and limited by personality “types.” He shows that our personalities are anything but static and can be changed by reframing our past traumas into learning experiences. Rewriting our stories can be a catalyst for growth and change. We can design our present lives—particularly our environments—to move us to desired outcomes.
But the most significant thing for me was the challenge to write about my future self. To write about it, I had to envision it and think hard about it. I had to forget about the past and present and think about my ideal future. Who do I really want to be? If I could design my ideal personality, what would it look like? To find out, I had to write about it on paper.
I had already begun journaling regularly so writing wasn’t the difficult part. What was difficult was writing without regard to my past mistakes and failures and perceived limits. It felt disingenuous to write in the present tense things that weren’t yet true. But I feared being stuck so I began to do it.
Here are some quotes from my journal, which I sometimes title “Future Self Capsules” or “Present Self Capsules.”
FUTURE SELF CAPSULE: I have joy and purity in my relationships with others, particularly women. I see them as God’s precious creations and I honor them with my thoughts, words, and actions. I project protection and safety to them in my spirit and demeanor. Of course, my wife is my most special friend and to her I give my love and devotion. I cherish her above all others.
FUTURE SELF CAPSULE: I use the active tense in my speech rather than the passive tense because I am confident in my intentions and desires.
FUTURE SELF CAPSULE: My mission in life is to make a positive difference, not to prove how smart I am. I will be helpful to others and build them up. Every encounter, however random it seems, is an opportunity to bring help and encouragement to someone else.
PRESENT SELF CAPSULE: I am a careful and thoughtful listener. I pause before answering so I can taste and understand the words of others. I seek to be an empathic witness. I ask clarifying questions and take the time to consider what is being said. When appropriate, I give my opinion or advice. Otherwise, I simply listen attentively and stay present with them.
These are examples of areas where I see lack in myself and need improvement. Stating them as present realities doesn’t mean that I have attained—my friends and acquaintances can surely attest to that—but these are things I truly desire.
And yes, I am seeing exciting progress and growth on so many fronts! The exercise of meditating and writing about my future self is restoring my vision and giving me healing that I never thought was possible.
Some may argue that this is just a psychological trick of wishful thinking. But I see a biblical basis for this in the concept of faith.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
By journaling like this, I am providing substance and evidence for the person I want to be. And certainly, God wants me to be better than I am now because I am predestined to be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:29). I am to be transformed by the renewing of my mind (see Romans 12:2) and the act of writing about who I want to be helps to counteract years of negative thinking.
Romans 4:17 relates the faith of Abraham in God, “...him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” Abraham believed in what God promised, even though they were not yet visible to him.
For me, writing like this is in the spirit of Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” It keeps the vision of the person I want to be in front of my eyes whenever I review my journal. Just the act of writing energizes me to make progress every day.
Are you stuck? Are you having trouble getting or staying sober? Are you sober but feel like your recovery is stalled out? Try writing about your ideal future self. Write with creativity, hope, and abandon. Write as if you are designing the perfect life for your child. Write in the present tense and without regard to the past or perceived limits.
Personality is not permanent. I know that for a fact.
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