Thinking about the future is scary. Grievers, we know very well the uncertainty ahead. Dreaming about what could be possible means facing what is true now. So today we’re going to learn about a practice that invites us to face the truth of today and invites hope to partner with intentionality for tomorrow.
Hoping for a different future than the one we have now is a really brave exercise, but it cannot be isolated something we do in our brains alone. Daydreaming is fun, and often I’ll encourage grievers to practice daydreaming as a coping mechanism for relief. Hope itself is often hard to come by for grievers. The uncertainty of the unknown and potential future losses can leave us frozen, unable to act on our own behalf or just locked in a pattern of unhelpful behaviors and thoughts. The future we want may seem daunting or unobtainable, too far off or just unrealistic. And this is why so many grievers will tell you that the idea of hope is nice, but not really for them. They want hope, but they’re so locked in patterns of safety that imagining something different as a reality can seem like a waste of time.
So for today, let’s put your own relationship or understanding of hope aside. We’re going to collectively agree that hope is real, hope is here, and hope is available to each of us with no strings attached. I won’t ask you to do much with it; for now, I just want you to allow a sense of hope to enter the conversation with us. Let it settle over your thoughts, allowing any unhopeful or unhelpful ideas or memories pass by for the time being. Dismiss the inner skeptic, working so hard to protect you from this thought exercise. Allow the critic to take a seat, keeping their opinions about others and what kills hope to fade to background noise. For today, for this conversation, we’re letting hope take the lead.
I want hope here for this conversation because when we begin imagining our future selves, we also have to reimagine our future selves at the same time. Imagining the self of tomorrow or next year is going to be some version of self without a lot of growth, and that’s not because you don’t want something to shift or grow. It’s simply because as grievers, we tend to think as short term as possible and with as little hope on the line as we can. The less we anticipate, the less we can lose.
Imagining who we are becoming is also really complicated because that person has already changed as a result of grief. Our losses push us into secondary losses, leading often to a full restructuring of our sense of self in the world. Imagining that person in the future is so hard because we’re not even sure who that person is right now.
But reimagining is where the gift of hope resides. The invitation we extend for hope to reshape and be the restructuring force, alongside our grief, is crucial. If we want to create a future that embraces uncertainty with confidence, tenderness, and self-compassion, then reimagining a hopeful future self is necessary.
So this week’s exercise is called future-self journaling. This is not my original concept, but the way we will apply it to grief work is unique. Future-self journaling is not just dreaming about what you hope to have someday. It’s the practice of intentionally creating a new version of self – the self you want to embody and are working toward, right now.
Most people use it as a strategy to break bad habits or build new ones. And in that way, it will aid our grief work as a tool for affirmation of our healing and our progress. But the purpose of grief work is integration – moving all the pieces and parts of our experience into an embodied whole self who is flexible, patient, healing, and always in renewal. Future-self journaling is backed by neuroscience, inviting us to work through the typical resistance of mental chatter and internal arguments to re-wire the pathways of thought we use to keep ourselves in place.
So in the context of grief work, future-self journaling means we’re not just changing our minds and habits. It means we are acknowledging our hurts and where we feel broken, and allowing hope to change the narrative around our pain. We have developed patterns of survival that allow us to cope with our grief but not all of those patterns are helpful or still offering support.
Take a moment and identify a pattern of behavior you’ve used as a coping mechanism in your own grief story. Really allow the sensations, how it feels in your body, heart, and spirit to come to mind. Choose a pattern you’d like to shift, and when you’re ready, invite hope into the pattern as well. What might be possible with this habit or pattern of living when hope for a different future is in the picture?
We can return to the same pattern every day, walking through the guided questions of a future-self journal and affirming our future self in ways that challenge the automatic negative thoughts that will arise.
Let’s use avoidance as an example. Let’s say that I’ve been avoiding phone calls as a pattern in my grief experience, and I want to shift that pattern into something more hopeful. There could be so many reasons why I feel unable to answer calls, so I’ll say that I’m worried the person on the other end of the call is going to ask too many questions about my grief that I don’t want to answer.
We start future-self journaling with an affirmation of who we are, right now. So I might say, “I am a hopeful person and I am able to answer questions about my grief story for myself.” I don’t need to answer questions for anyone else, but answering them for myself might be a really healthy step forward.
Next, we identify the pattern again and follow it with gratitude. I would say, “I will focus on shifting my pattern of phone call avoidance. I am grateful for the people who call and check on me, even if I can’t always handle their calls. I’m grateful I am remembered, and seen.”
Then we identify a trait of that future-self we want to embody, as well as naming the ways that version of us will experience a positive impact from this shift. We also want to notice and reflect on how that future-self would feel if this change were real. I would say, “My future self is going to be comfortable answering the phone because she will be answering grief questions for herself with honesty and hope in her own time. My future self will experience more clarity in her own grief, and more connection with others because she will not be afraid of what they may or may not ask.”
And lastly, we identify our next opportunity to practice this version of our future-selves. It needs to be a timely, specific opportunity that is not easily pushed aside. I would say, “I am going to practice this hopeful, honest version of myself by spending five minutes today after breakfast journaling about what my current thoughts are in my grief journey. Then, I’m going to allow those thoughts to stay with me so that if my phone rings, I can answer it and share honestly what I’m feeling.”
If this seems like a lot, you’re right! It is. Growth and changing our patterns of behavior are not like a weekend reno project. They’re intentional, integrative steps toward our future-selves. This practice can be lifechanging, if you’ll let it.
So the next time you’re in a place of mental clarity (before bed, after waking, after eating, etc.), start a future-self journaling exercise with an affirmation of your wholeness. Focus on what patterns you want to shift, traits you want to embody in the future, the type of experiences you want to have, and how it feels to be in that “future” self state – what will it be like to be that person?
This invites change. The excitement of considering who you are becoming – more whole, more connected, more grounded, more loving – will manifest in your body as energy to move toward that person, which translates into making choices that change your life into something more like your vision. Keep hope at the ready, setting aside your big questions about the unknown and challenges about what’s to come in life. You’ll have plenty of time to ruminate on those thoughts, too, but for today, let’s let them take a break from running through your mind and imagine what is hopeful about your future instead.
Thank you for listening to episode 116 of Restorative Grief. Everything is a risk, my friend. Everything. Listening to this podcast is a risk, and yet, here you are, hoping that something good will come of this.
When we put ourselves into distorted thinking of black/white by setting hope aside, we prevent ourselves from seeing the nuance and truth of our lives – we are whole and uncontainable people. When you can move away from trying to contain your experience and limit it to what is safe and certain, you’re going to encounter a fullness that makes a hopeless future seem deeply unrealistic.
If this is your first time listening, thank you for making time to join us on the show! This is the last episode of 2023 and it’s been quite a year. To say the least. If you’re on the planet like me, it’s been a rough year for you too, so I hope as part of your future-self imagining, you can see yourself subscribing to the podcast and listening on a regular basis. These conversations are all here for you to have a lighter experience in your grief work, and it’s an honor to do this with you.
Please be sure to leave a five star review if you enjoyed this episode and share it with a friend! You never know who else is holding back on their grief work and just needs a gentle invitation forward. And as always, one last thing before we go. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources from this episode:
- Future-self journal from Restorative Grief Coaching
- Join the Patreon at Patreon.com/MandyCapehart
- Learn more about Restorative Grief Coaching