Getting Acquainted with a Stranger

Last week I had the chance to catch the March 17, 2020 Ed Mylett Show: Revolutionize Your Life w/Steven Kotler. This podcast episode really got the gears in my head turning. It was a wide-ranging interview that went from achieving “flow state” to the future which is much closer than we think. The interview was so good that after listening to it, I bought Steven Kotler’s latest book.

Twenty pages into this unbelievable page-turner, I came across the following paragraphs:

It’s not easy for any of us. Studies done with fMRI show that when we project ourselves into the future something peculiar happens: The medial prefrontal cortex shuts down. This is a part of the brain that activates when we think about ourselves. When we think about other people, the inverse happens: It deactivates. And when we think about absolute strangers, it deactivates even more.

You’d expect that thinking about our future selves would excite the medial prefrontal cortex. Yet the opposite happens. It starts to shut down, meaning the brain treats the person we’re going to become as a stranger. And the farther you project into the future, the more of a stranger you become. If, a few paragraphs back, you took the time to think about how the transportation revolution would impact future you, the you that you were thinking of was literally not you. – The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives by Peter H. Diamandis, Steven Kotler

Visualize your future self and part of your brain shuts down. You’ve got to be kidding me! How much time have I spent with part of my brain turned off? But the more I think about it, the more it starts to make sense. Thinking about my future self is fuzzy. Of course I have an idea of the path I want to travel, but who will I be when I get there?

In Ed Mylett’s May 19th episode: Visualize Your Victory w/ Phil Mickelson, I had the opportunity to hear one of the all-time great golfers discuss his visualization techniques. Here is a man who knew what he wanted to do since the age of eight. Before his tournaments and individual rounds, he visualizes what he is going to do. Then he goes out, and more often than not, does it. How do you visualize victory and who is in the vision? Is it you or the stranger also known as the future you?

Once again, the wheels started turning, but this time I was thinking of a colleague I met in Munich. Sergei is on his way to becoming a big boss for a major luxury car company. When he was eighteen he signed a fifty year contract with the company. Fifty years! Growing up in the U.S., I never heard of such a thing. I’ve known people who worked for the same organization their whole lives, but never did I hear of them signing a contract to do it. Could you imagine professional athletes doing that today?

Sergei had the plan from a young age that he was going to go to the top. Much like Phil Mickelson, he had the plan and then he took the steps in the right direction. It is a stark contrast compared to many of the people I have worked with in the past.

For many, their current career is only a temporary point along their projected path. They work their day jobs hoping for something better to come along. There is nothing wrong with that, unless the temporary becomes permanent and the growth becomes stagnant. These workers never envisioned spending their whole lives working for the same company, because they’ve always dreamed of being somewhere else. But what could they have achieved if they put all their efforts into their current situation? What opportunities could have abounded if instead of looking to the unforeseeable future, they put their focus on the tasks needed to make today a success? How many organizations would benefit from wholly invested employees rather than the wayfarers only on a temporary stop?

I would not give a fig for the young man in business who does not already see himself a partner, or the head of a firm. –Andrew Carnegie

Oh the possibilities if we could only realize the vision! If only we didn’t have a prefrontal media cortex shut down every time we imagined our future selves! How do we become acquainted with this stranger we have yet to meet?

I’m still trying to work that one out. I think I see my future. At least, I think I have a vision of the direction I want to go. Who will I be when I get there? No idea. That part comes down to hope. I hope that through personal growth and a constant effort towards living a virtuous life, my future self is a juggernaut of wisdom. Here’s to hope!

I might not know who I will be when I get there, but I have an idea of how I am going to get there. I am going to allow my mind’s eye to see both near and far. Like Phil Mickelson, I am going to visualize the short-term victories. I already do this to some extent picturing my workouts before they happen. Twenty minutes before I come into the factory, I sit in the parking lot setting my intention for the day. And like Sergei, I am going to look far into the future and set my sights towards that path. That means creating the milestones and then doing everything in my power to hit them. It means adapting, overcoming, and being relentless in the pursuit.

To pay the rent on this post, I leave you once again with the words of Seneca from his 39th Letter to Lucilius:

No man of exalted gifts is pleased with that which is low and mean; the vision of great achievement summons him and uplifts him. –On Noble Aspirations

Alexander, my prayer and hope is that you will achieve what you see within your mind’s eye. Create the vision, heed its calling, and let your dreams become a reality leading you to the heights of your own personal greatness.

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