How Realistic And Pragmatic Should Your Vision Be?
Many people get nervous about visioning and how to have a vision. It sounds so grand and too abstract, I like to encourage my clients to think in a way that is counter-intuitive releasing and creative, to remind them that a vision can be:
Something that may not be easily or realistically attainable
Something that gives the sense of a utopian future where everything has worked out perfectly
Something that could be a little creative, delusional and optimistic …
and imagine a time at least 20 – 30 years in the future… to try and stop imagining a life too much the same as the one we are currently inhabiting.
Delusional you say? Yes, really!
Psychologist Shelley Taylor argued that ‘Positive Illusions’ are actually an excellent indicator of positive mental health and wellbeing, they are ‘healthy lies’ that we tell ourselves.
This is a theory now widely recognised, and in a recent Psychology Today article, UCLA Professor Joseph Pierre encapsulated it into ‘Three Healthy Lies We Tell Ourselves’:
1. ‘I am better than the average person’
We have all experienced or seen examples where self-confidence, or perhaps even over-confidence, seems to lead to a surprising level of achievement. Do not be afraid of this self-belief. As long as you keep it in check and do not allow your confidence to spill over into superiority, which can be perceived as narcissism, it will work for you and be a positive in your life.
2. ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’
Illusions of control, or the belief that you have control over circumstances that are largely beyond your control, is, according to Shelley Taylor, hugely beneficial for both mental and physical health. An illusion of control can arm us against feelings of helplessness and depression.
3. ‘The future will be great, especially for me’
Looking at the future through ‘rose tinted glasses’, over-estimating the likelihood of a good outcome and having ‘unrealistic optimism’ or ‘optimism bias’ can be self-fulfilling. Perhaps we keep at a goal just that little bit longer, we push just a little bit harder, because we have that belief that we can do it, that our goal is attainable and that the outcome is achievable.
This article can be found here, it is well worth a read.
Daniel Gilbert who wrote Stumbling on Happiness writes about this all brilliantly too. Gilbert says, “Our ability to project forward in time and experience events before they happen allow us to learn from mistakes without making them. If nature has given us a greater gift no-one has named it.”
And yet as impressive as this gift is, his book is all about how our ability to simulate future selves is flawed. We don’t always know what will make us happy and we often are too influenced by how we feel now to really imagine what’s possible. A vision is not meant to be a goal or strategy, instead it is a representation of a possible future.
Revisit That Vision
I have been revisiting clients whom I coached one or two decades ago to conduct interviews and to celebrate 20 years since I founded Leadership Coaching. These conversations feel so inspiring to me. Some of these clients are reporting they are “living the dream” and have arrived at their vision or a sense of calm. Many of them can recall the early articulations of it in a Positive Vision Day whilst knee deep in operational stress… a power question eliciting a dreamy answer, a visualisation, a drawing, a hope, a small practice that has expanded… They have stopped striving and doing, and started BEING present and happy in their once (slightly delusional) vision.
Build A Castle In The Air
I had this quote by Henry David Thoreau on my wall as a teenager and I realise now that I have held it as something of a life philosophy, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
I think a vision is exactly this, the castle in the air that we can reach for through our values. I often encourage my clients to stretch out a vision that might seem impossible to reach and this personal vision acts as a guiding light to aim towards. It helps the sense that all your goals underneath the vision itself have their own mission and purpose.
“People underestimate what they can achieve in a decade and overestimate what they can achieve in a year.” Bill Gates
There is no immediacy and instant gratification with a vision. For me, minimum of ten to twenty years feels the best timeframe to work within. It’s far enough out there for us to be able to let go of the day-to-day stories we tell ourselves and not feel sabotaged by our inner critics eating away at momentum and motivation. It enables us to plot a future that is not tethered exactly to the now, which in turn invites a bigger frame of reference. This ties in nicely with the Lofty Vision and Unlofty Goals that I talked about in my January newsletter.
Can anything be more inspiring and motivating than having a vision of a career and life you would love to live, and a feeling of pride in it?
Follow Your Mental Pathway
Having a positive vision helps us make the connection with our future selves and in doing so, we start to create a mental pathway of how we can reach this ideal future. This is a strategy that activates hope, simultaneously creating an optimistic future and starting to generate pathways to help us get there.
Richard Boyatzis in his Intentional Change Theory, highlights the importance of a personal vision for change. There are three components to developing the image of our ideal self:
• An image of a desired future
• Hope that one can attain it
• Aspects of one’s core identity, which includes enduring strengths, on which to build for this desired future
“Our research shows that people develop a deep emotional commitment to making a change if they have created an image of their ideal self and use it in their change process.”
This is a very uplifting and contagious state to be in for a leader as it inspires hope and agency in the followers. The more aligned a leader is in terms of being concordant with goals and values, the more trustworthy they appear to be, and people experience them as being at ease. And when we encourage and coach others around us to do the same with compassion, Boyatzis has found that leaders also find renewal and feel good as well as the person they are coaching.
Taking the time to work on our own vision, aligned with our values, is one of the most important things we can do as leaders. That’s why our Positive Vision Days are my favourite type of work and the subject title of my upcoming book, A Beautiful Way to Coach.
We can all coach, and lead with compassion and help people think about their visions. This will feel good for you and them. Together we can start building pathways to those visions and brighter futures. We may start delusional and over-optimistic, but with coaching we learn how to turn those dreams into reality.
Please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org your thoughts on visioning.