At Protagion, we regularly suggest forward-looking self-reflection exercises for our members, especially as they can help us imagine possibilities by shifting our focus from present constraints. One example is our career timecapsule exercise which encourages long-term thinking.
We came across another application of this future-self idea, thanks to Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big*. It's an exercise she herself learnt from the Coaches Training Institute, and involves imagining an older, wiser you, decades into the future. Tara refers to this vision as our “inner mentor” and with her coaching clients has found that once we have a vivid sense of this future version of ourselves, we discover that he/she exists as a voice within us right now.
There is a voice in each of us that is unburdened by fear and untouched by insecurity, that has utter calm, that emanates love for oneself and others, and that knows exactly who we would be if we were brave enough to show up as our true selves. The ‘inner mentor’ is a way of accessing that part of us, a tool to tap into it. It can then become one’s personal guide to playing bigger.”
The visualisation exercise is most useful when we have some life experience, including being more open to listening to our elders – even if it’s an internal rather than external elder we’re tapping into. So, it works better for qualified professionals than scholars or students, for example. We feel your inner mentor is a helpful addition to your Mentorship Board, especially as they will know you best of all your mentors, and are always accessible to you. Our inner mentors function as a source of guidance, a voice we can draw on to develop a vision for our lives and careers, to help us make tough decisions, and to chart our unique paths.
Interestingly, an inner mentor is conceptually aligned with, although opposite to, the ‘advice I’d give my younger self’ style of career guidance experienced mentors share. An example on our website is Tim Rozar’s career advice. In this vein, we can consider an inner mentor as ‘advice I’d ask my older self for’.
Read more to see how to envisage your inner mentor and consult with him/her, compare ‘outer’ and inner mentors, and consider how to grow toward our inner mentors step by step, decision by decision.
Visualising your Future Self
Tara describes her first experience of the future-self visualisation exercise, in a guided group setting, as follows: “...We met our future selves, the woman or man we’d become twenty years from now. The teachers led us step by step to arriving at his or her home, and asked us to notice: What kind of place did she live in? What was her presence like? Who was the woman who greeted us at the door? They told us to have a chat with this older self, to ask him or her questions like 'What do I need to know to get from where I am to where you are?' and 'What has been most important about the past twenty years?' We could ask this future self about any dilemma in our lives and see what he or she had to say about it. Then [the teachers] guided us to bring the conversation to an end and to imagine ourselves travelling back to earth in the present day…”. She reflects: “The future selves they encountered were not really just older versions of themselves. They were more like guides, mentors with incredible wisdom, figures who imparted a sense of peace and integrity so profound it could hardly be put into words. They’d met individuals who weren’t merely older selves but more authentic, fully expressed versions of themselves. In these ‘future selves’ all their best qualities and gifts shone brightly.”
One example of a recording of the guided visualisation to meet your future self is available at: https://soundcloud.com/pleasancechyna/future-self-visualization-from
Inner vs Outer Mentors
Tara says her inner mentor is a “composite of all the most important parts of me that I had left behind” and that she “felt both unfamiliar and familiar. Some parts of her I immediately knew were buried parts of myself. Other aspects of her life and home felt more surprising and mysterious.”
In contrast, ‘outer’ mentors are other people who can show us the way, make connections and give us advice. They’re a fundamental component of what Protagion offers to our proteges to support them to achieve their personal career goals. Your inner mentor is not a replacement for outer mentors, but instead is a worthwhile complement to them. Because they are inside of you, they will always be there for you, unfailingly, if you set aside the time to consult with them – no schedule conflicts for example. And, Tara says, “because she’s your inner voice, her guidance won’t be a reflection of what worked for someone else [in their career]; it will always be just right for you.”
Tara adds: “The traditional mentor-mentee hierarchical relationship is particularly tricky for women as they step into playing bigger, because that often involves their pioneering new ways of crafting their lives and careers or acting as change agents in their organisations or communities. As innovators, their primary need is not for someone who went before to show them the ropes and give advice based on what worked for them. Rather, they need tools and encouragement to find their own unprecedented ways forward.”
Growing into your inner mentor
To access the internal voice that has just-right-for-us answers, we simply need to learn how to discover it and be reminded to access it regularly, says Tara, until that becomes our habitual way of doing things. We can start to grow into our inner mentors by asking simple, concrete questions like:
Tara describes her process of growing into her inner mentor: “...Day by day I kept asking, ‘Well, which choice here – a or b – will bring me closer to living her life?’ I’d choose whichever option, whichever action, did that. In those months of transition, when I looked in the mirror, or at my living room, or in my calendar, and saw more and more of her expressed in my present life, it showed me, yes, you can become that amazing woman you met in the vision. In fact, you are becoming her.”
“We can consult with her on decisions too,” says Tara. “After I met my inner mentor, when I was faced with an important decision, I’d ask myself, which of these roads moves me closer to becoming that woman I saw in the visualisation? That criteria helped me quickly say a lot of nos and some significant yeses. It helped me tune out external pressures and helped me find the answers that were right for me.”
Because of the future nature of your inner mentor, he/she is not a destination at which you arrive i.e. you don’t ever fully become your inner mentor. While you can grow toward them step by step, decision by decision, they serve as your compass, “a North Star you can keep looking to, a way to navigate your path, a touchstone to return to again and again in the face of tough choices and challenging moments”.
Inside, there is a voice that can remind us about our own right paths. Inside there is a voice of wisdom, calm, love and guidance. We can turn inside for answers, again and again.”
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