The future we dream about reveals a lot about our hopes, values, and desires. One of my favorite life coaching techniques is the “Ideal Future”. This technique involves taking a dream or vision and imagining a specific moment in the future when that dream has become a reality.
Rather than focusing on how a person will accomplish what she hopes for, the coach helps her client move past obstacles to hone in on what it would look and feel like to have accomplished this particular goal or dream.
For example, Susan dreams of writing a book about trusting God when life hurts – but Susan doesn’t see how she can possibly fit in time to write it. The coach helps Susan visualize in detail what the finished book will look like, and then asks Susan to choose a particular person who might be impacted by the book’s message. Susan thinks of Jenny, a young woman she sat next to last week who is floundering after suffering a series of losses. Susan then imagines Jenny holding Susan’s book in her hands with corners of pages bent and notes penned in the margins, along with a few tear-stained smudges. Jenny is describing the deep courage and comfort Susan’s message of trust has given her. Then the coach asks Susan how listening to Jenny impacts her and what that gives her as a writer.
Talking about impact is a very effective way to tap into motivation. Obstacles like not enough time, money, or opportunity tend to fade when you get a glimpse of a hope fulfilled.
Being in that reality, even in one’s imagination, often renews sparks of vision and increases energy to push through obstacles to “see” dreams and hopes come to life.
The caveat for using this technique is thinking our optimism, grit, and determination, along with a little resourcing and a shot of time management, can bring to fruition all we hope for.
Sometimes. But not always.
The real beauty of this technique is what it reveals about a person’s deepest hopes. Tony Stoltzfus writes in his excellent Christian Life Coaching Handbook, “Dreams are a window into our heart’s desire. Dreams are containers that give form to our passions and values, so we can talk about them.” By exploring the dream (the container) we unearth the desire underneath that points to God. Then we can reorient the goal around the true desire instead of the container.
Here’s how that works. A friend’s dream is to open a coffee shop with cozy couches where friends gather to explore ideas, share struggles, and celebrate joys. She imagines the walls filled with inspiring books and thought-provoking art. Delicious smells and soft music fill the room. Big windows with sunshine and panoramic views create a feeling of safety and quiet in the midst of hurried life.
Honestly – and sadly – it’s unlikely she will ever own that coffee shop. How will she ever get the money or find the time to create this place? If she focuses on the dream (the container), how disappointing!
But after visualizing this wonderful gathering place, she is able to name the desires motivating her dream of a coffee shop. She identifies her value for life-giving friendships, nurturing beauty, promoting health and joy in relationships, inspiring deep thinking and safe conversations.
Can those heart desires be fulfilled without owning a coffee shop? Absolutely. In fact, that’s how this friend lives on a daily basis. She is already living her desire and values in the here and now. Growing in her awareness of how God has wired her and how He currently uses her as an inviting, safe gathering place for her friends increases her courage and determination to demonstrate her values in all her relationships.
Her focus shifts from trying to get “the what” she is hoping for to putting her hope in God to live out His design for her.
So what about Susan, our aspiring writer? I sure hope she writes her book, don’t you? But in the meantime, Susan is putting her hope in God to recognize when she’s sitting next to a Jenny who needs her message of trust. She doesn’t have to wait for the ideal future to experience the impact of her dream now.
What are you hoping for? What would it look like for you to put your hope in God to see your heart’s desire become reality?
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