Why You Should Write Notes to Your Future Self
‘Future journaling’ helps you see past your everyday challenges and focus on your true goals
Last year, I had dinner with a 98-year-old woman, who was describing her life during World War II with the calmness of someone listing off what she ate for breakfast that morning. As she spoke, she seemed completely at peace, not worrying at all about what else she had to do or where she had to be. When we said our goodbyes that evening, she held both my hands and smiled, and I felt incredibly safe.
As I thought about her later that evening, I wondered what my life will be like when I reach her age. What will I have accomplished? Will I have any regrets? What will keep me up at night? Lost in my own thoughts, I decided it was a good time to practice one of my favorite rituals: future journaling.
With future journaling, you simply write a letter to your future self. The time frame doesn’t really matter — you can imagine yourself a week, a month, 10 years, or 50 years down the road. What’s key is that you lay out your current worries and look for guidance in the bigger picture of your life.
Our present selves, it turns out, are horrible judges of our immediate realities. We’re swayed by temporary circumstances, by our shifting emotions, by what we see others around us doing or achieving. Future journaling helps us focus on our true goals and values so we don’t get caught up in the challenges that can cloud our vision. It’s also helpful for controlling anxiety, doubt, and indecision.
That night, I wrote a letter to my 100-year-old self, asking her how she’s doing and what I hope for her life.
How are you? Is your mind still sharp? Do you still feel good in your body? I hope you’ve taken care of yourself over the years, with your body, your mind, and your soul.
I told my future self that I was living through a confusing time in my life — I was no longer in school and missed the sense of direction it had given me. I asked if she ever had a chance to be a mother and if she had made choices she was proud of.
Are you surrounded by love? Did you help others and change the world somehow? Or maybe you had an enormous impact on just a few individuals, because that would be amazing too. I just hope you didn’t become some cog in a wheel, doing some work you don’t care about, surrounded by people who are equally jaded.
To get started with future journaling, here are some tips:
- You can do this in your regular journal. I leave blank pages between months so when I feel I need to future journal, I can flip to these empty spaces and write.
- The time frame you choose to write to yourself depends on the issue that’s bothering you. For example, if you’re anxious about having to choose between two different jobs, you might write to yourself five years in the future, when you’re a bit further along in your career. If you’re uncertain about the path of your life in general, perhaps you’d want to write to yourself 30 years down the line.
- Imagine yourself at this future moment and what the ideal version of you would look like. How did you move past this challenge you’re struggling with now?
- Through the writing process, focus on the heart of the problem you’re currently facing, and try to understand why you care so much about it. Ask yourself if the issue will matter in the long run. Consider what would happen if things don’t go exactly as you hope.
While future journaling is a therapeutic activity in the moment, another benefit comes later, when you look back on your letter in the future to see if you lived up to all you envisioned.
Finishing up my letter, I told my future self that I hoped she was satisfied with what she’s leaving behind in the world. I wished her the best and signed off: “Warmest regards, Kaki, from 2019.”