Self leadership and vision: the power of future life progression

catherine dixon

Martin Luther King’s legendary speech “I have a dream” fuelled the Civil Rights movement through articulating a vision of how people of all races, colours and creeds could live in peace and harmony. Louise Hay wrote and produced her first book from a tiny apartment with her mother’s help. She held a belief that habitual affirmations of unconditional self love had the power to heal mind, body and spirit and she used this formula to overcome her own challenging personal circumstances. Her vision led her to create Hay House Publishing which is now the largest self help publishing house in the world.

by Catherine Dixon

Great leaders lead from the heart. Very often their vision is created out of great need or extraordinary conditions that demand change. Their vision is rarely founded on rehashing the past as a template to direct the future – it is about being able to see and feel that different possibilities are the best option.

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
Alan Kay

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”
Albert Camus

To be successful, organisations, schools and athletes, and just about any worthwhile endeavour, requires a vision. Today probably more than any other time in history there is a need for self leadership and self sufficiency. Yet we do need help to see things differently. Some people seek that guidance from loved ones and friends, others come to people like us; therapists, counsellors and coaches hoping to restore clarity, reclaim better health or reaffirm a positive identity. Yet the answer always lies within. So encouraging ourselves and other people to see our own best solution is the most empowering thing we can possibly do. An inspiring vision of the future creates the light that leads the way forward and helps us identify our direction, what we need to release and on what we need to focus dedicate our energy.

The power of visualising the future

“There is a law in psychology that if you form a picture in your mind of what you would like to be, and you keep and hold that picture there long enough, you will soon become exactly as you have been thinking.”
William James, 1842-1910, psychologist and author

Future Life Progression is a type of visualisation that awakens future possibilities through deep relaxation and trance. It was pioneered by Anne Jirsch who wrote the book of the same title. Future life progression could mean the future of this life or the future of ourselves in future lives, after we die.

This article is about the creating an immediate vision of our future for this lifetime.

Many of us do future life progression quite spontaneously every time we imagine doing something in the future, usually either imagining how well things are going to go, or worrying that those things are going to go badly.

This mental rehearsal or future pacing is extremely powerful for the mind and numerous research studies shows that ‘practicing in your mind’ is almost as effective as practicing physically, and that doing both is more effective than either one alone. Visualisation of the future is already used in many fields anyway such as athletics and sports, and by performers and presenters. The Soviets pioneered visualisation in sports psychology back in the 1970s.

In the last 10-15 years, there has been some groundbreaking new brain research which has also validated visualisation. Dr Richard Restak, a neuroscientist and author of 12 books about the human brain wrote: “The process of imagining yourself going through the motions of a complex musical or athletic performance activates brain areas that improve your performance. Brain scans have placed such intuitions on a firm neurological basis. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans reveal that the mental rehearsal of an action activates the prefontal areas of the brain responsible for the formulation of the appropriate motor programs. In practical terms, this means you can benefit from the use of mental imagery.”

The evidence that the visualisations can help healing has been well documented and Dr David Hamilton author of It’s the Thought That Counts writes of three conclusive studies where future visualisation has been used for healing. A 2008 study at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak showed how using visualisation for the treatment of interstitial cystitis had significantly reduced symptoms and pain than those who didn’t during an eight-week period. A 2008 study published in the Journal for the Society of Integrative Oncology demonstrated that visualisation reduced the risk of reoccurrence of breast cancer. In a 2007 study at Southeastern Louisiana University School of Nursing 24 patients undergoing surgery to remove their gallbladders used visualisation as part of the treatment. The study indicated that through visualisation the levels of anxiety and stress hormone levels were reduced and post operation recovery was much speeded up.

Creating an inner vision offers the mind three major advantages:

  1. Your muscles experience electrical impulses that correspond to the physical event you are imagining and neuromuscular template are developed preparing you physiologically for the real thing.
  2. You go beyond what you think is possible in the present circumstances and way beyond your current level of comfort. You can rehearse success from a different angle which prepares you for the reality. You also get to see the big picture from other people’s perspectives such as friends, family and whoever else is part of the vision.
  3. Your intuition and unconscious bring you new ideas. When faced with something you have never experienced before your mind scans your experiential databank (the unconscious) for ideas, resources and then presents you with ideas and inspirations that you hadn’t previously considered. You may find yourself attending meetings, or picking up books without realising you are being guided.

Future life progression

Our concept of time is a construct of the mind and there really is no such thing as time apart from in our imagination. Yet most of us don’t generally inhabit the present most of the time and by nature are time travellers. Our minds take us forwards and backwards sometimes all at the same time. One of the hardest disciplines of all is to remain in the present, peaceful and grounded. If the future is not promising or optimistic it creates fear and anxiety. If the past is not resolved with a sense of peace and completeness there can be regrets, blame and shame.

The trance state used in hypnotherapy enables clients to access memories and significant emotional events held at an unconscious level. These memories and events default every time perceived triggers of danger arise as the unconscious acts as a fire wall of protection yet at the same time locking us into limiting patterns and unsuccessful coping strategies. The use of time line therapy and past life regression (the past either being this life time or previous existences), can reframe and disengage us from that pattern mentally, emotional and at a synaptic and neurological level. Yet freeing up past patterns alone does not guarantee a change for the future. Seeing and planning for the future does. Einstein once said that a problem cannot be solved at the level of creation. There is a need to gain the ‘helicopter view’, the bigger picture and then to zoom down into details and action plans. Future Life Progression is the vehicle that helps us get that ‘helicopter view’.

As with other forms of regression, the use of hypnotic induction is used in FLP to bypass the critical conscious mind so we can see alternative futures revealed in deep state of relaxation. The future is not fixed because we do have free will. Seeing the future differently releases feelings of hope and encouragement. This is especially relevant for anyone facing change and uncertainty. This vision is then translated into:

  • A visual representation through creating a vision board
  • A visual mind map that creates clarity and helps with planning goals and milestones along the way
  • A commitment to developing the habits, actions attitudes and guiding affirmations that help build the future day by day. This is the linchpin of the whole process becoming a reality.

The future life progression and envisioning process

I use the 5-step process when helping people to create a different future. This takes them down from the helicopter view presented in the FLP state, to creating a vision board, to mapping out the major goals and finally to taking actions and changing habits.

Step one: awareness

During the first meeting I encourage clients to take stock of where they are now, are what they are happy with, and what they are not happy with. This relates to the whole of their life: health, wealth, career, relationships, home and life purpose. Clients get an overview of core strengths, values and needs what makes them feel vulnerable and the internal and external factors that affect energy and wellbeing in both positive and negative ways. I ask them what areas they would like to concentrate on. They can use the process to get a big picture view or just one thing in particular.

Step two: create life vision with future life progression

Clients are progressed into the future so they get the opportunity to see their future alternatives and decide which of these they would like to focus on becoming a reality.

Step three: the big picture

This future is then captured into a visual picture through a vision board.

Step four: map the vision

The vision is then mapped out through questions so the participant also get a mental map of how the vision works in practice. Mind maps follow the natural structure of our minds which is to link ideas. Mind mapping can reveal new connections, prompt new ideas and may give extra insight to include important information in the plan.

Step five: affirm the vision everyday

Once you’ve set the big picture in the map it is natural to see the list of daily habits behaviours and action steps necessary to reach individual goals and overall vision. This is done through writing down the action steps and visualising them – the entire process, not just the end result. It is very effective to get clients to write out a typical day and then visualise it as they would want it. For example, getting them to see themselves food shopping, choosing healthy food and ordering healthy foods from restaurant menus and so forth.

Case study

Let me take you through a case study to illustrate how this process works.

My client Chris is in his late 40s. He is a very successful entrepreneur with an excellent track record of growing and sustaining businesses in competitive markets. He came to see me because he was generally unsatisfied with where he was in his life. He felt unhappy about his appearance and weight and felt that his current work though financially rewarding, lacked stimulation and challenge. I asked him what he wanted to see in the visualisation. He wanted to know about his health and changes at work. We agreed to do a visualisation of the immediate 2-3 years though I find that 5 years also works well because it gives the client enough of a timeframe to lift themselves out of their current circumstances. With Chris we agreed that he would like to look at three options for his future vision. One in which he made no current changes, one in which he made partial changes and one where he really put in his best efforts and created his best possible future.

I first took Chris through a light to moderate induction and deepener and then used an extended metaphor to take him down a pathway to his explore possible futures. As Chris explored his first option he saw that really little had changed with regards to his business it was doing well yet he saw that his weight and fitness had remained mostly unchanged. I asked Chris to speak to his future self to get the best advice. He heard himself saying quite forcefully that it was time for him to start changing his diet and exercising daily. Actually he loved sport and used to be a tennis coach so he wondered why he did not do the things he loved. I asked Chris to step out of the visualisation back on the neutral platform and take on board everything that his future self had advised. I then asked him to step forward and explore his next future alternative. In this option that he looked fit and several kilos lighter. He felt his energy was more expansive and optimistic. He was happier at work yet there were no significant changes, yet he had moved home. I asked Chris to ask the future self in this visualisation what he needed to know. He told himself that he was pleased with the commitments he had made to his health yet he needed to dream bigger and really touch on his heart’s desire.

Prompted with this knowledge, I then invited him to step forward into his best possible future, one in which he committed to all the things he needed to do and one in which he received all the opportunities and breaks. In this future he saw himself not only healthy and happy yet standing in front of a group of young people who were listening to him with great intent. He was unclear what he was doing exactly yet felt he was some kind of consultant/coach and that he felt very comfortable doing this. He reported that financially he was secure, he looked and felt healthy and there was a high level of enthusiasm and energy. He said that he was still involved in his other businesses yet he had delegated out much of the operational duties which gave him the opportunity to grow this new project which was also a business.

When I asked Chris for feedback on the session out of trance Chris said the third future was the one that he wanted and that he had not felt so inspired and excited for years.

The next step was to create a vision of the future. I asked Chris to find pictures in magazines or on the internet that best represented the third future that he had visualised.

How to make a vision board

A vision board is a visual representation of your vision is created out of pictures and carefully chosen words or phrases that represent this vision. To create a vision board you need.

  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Foam core board, poster board or card
  • A large assortment of colour magazines or colour pictures downloaded from the internet.
  1. Cut out and compile the pictures that are relevant to your whole life vision and that truly represent it. The image you create needs to feel congruent (you feel that it is achievable) and inspiring rather than overwhelming.
  2. Start arranging your pictures on your board. Choose the ones that have the most positive impact on you. Don’t worry about being artistic! You might want to add your own drawings and sentences if you feel that these would better describe how you feel about your goal.
  3. Place the vision board in a strategic location that gives you as much visual exposure to it as possible such as your office, living room or bedroom. Your vision board is for you – negative criticism or justification of your dreams from others can kill the energy that your vision board releases.
  4. Update your vision board as often as you need to. As you progress closer towards the fulfilment of your vision, you might find that some of the images or pictures on your board don’t really have as much impact on you as they did before so update accordingly.

When the vision board was created it was time to map that out into a visual map so he could explore more about the new business and the ways to get fitter and healthier. I asked him

  • What is the purpose of the new business?
  • Why is this important? (the values)
  • Who are the clients?
  • What are the main issues that his client faced?
  • What skills does he already have?
  • What skills does he need?
  • What would he have to do to make this a reality?
  • How would he need to look after himself mentally, physically and emotionally for this to happen?
  • What beliefs about him would serve him best?
  • What daily habits does he need to make his vision a reality?

The map below is an example of the vision map we created for Chris. This provided him with an overall sense of direction, purpose and when he needed to put his focus. heartmap

This new business was more about coaching and consultancy and using the knowledge and expertise he acquired during business to help people build a healthy and balanced business where they mattered as much as the demands of the business. Chris had previously suffered severe physical and mental burn out so knew the consequences of driving yourself too hard.

During this mapping process he decided to cut down on alcohol during weekdays and limit his consumption at the weekend. He also decided to do 30 minutes a day on his cross trainer and also that he needed tennis in his life again.

Over a few months Chris used this vision to transform his life and has already lost a stone and is in the process of creating the foundations for his new business venture.


Future Life Progression calls on the use of the unconscious and our imagination to make our dreams come true. The past does not need to dictate the future. The future is a product of what we do about today. With an inspiring vision, clear goals and a determination to channel energy into habits that empower us the future can indeed be different.

This powerful process is as much about evolving as it is changing.

Catherine Dixon
BA (Hons), RSA Dip, HPD Dip. NLP Prac, Cog Hyp, MNCH
Catherine is coach, trainer, workshop leader, writer and presenter with over 25 years’ experience in the field of personal development. She is known for encouraging clients to establish an inspiring, authentic life vision that incorporates a sustainable work-life balance.
Her work is based on my knowledge and experience of business, sales and marketing, training, learning systems, personal development strategies, psychology, health practices, hypnotherapy, NLP, psychotherapeutic interventions and meditation.

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