It’s the new trend! The popularization of online services that offer to save a message (public or private) that you write to be sent on a future date to yourself has gotten people to get creative with the things they would like to say to their future selves. You could send anything, of course, and most people will write funny or silly stuff just for the fun of it.
It looks like just a silly new trend, but if you think about it, suddenly getting an email you wrote to yourself 5 years ago can have a powerful impact on you – if you do it wisely, of course! Writing silly or superficial stuff can be fun, but using it as a life strategy to keep you on course can be smart.
Most people “suffer” from what I call selective amnesia. They have dreams and ideas, but as time goes by, routine takes over and whatever is not put into practice immediately is progressively forgotten. In a time frame of only a year, each one of us has had at least 10 different ideas of things to do, from hobbies to solutions to our problems, but then we go back to your lives and responsibilities and forget about them.
If today you received an email you had written to yourself 10 years ago describing what you expected you would have become by now, where you would expected to be in life, would you open the letter proud of having reached your personal vision or frustrated because you expected so much of yourself, but you’re so far from that vision?
A lot of people fall into the second group. They are very far from that person they thought they would be by now. The funny thing is that we forget about our past expectations and dreams. Even if we know we’re not as well off as we had imagined we would be today, we tend to forget the details of the specific dreams we had for ourselves. Being reminded of those goals can be a very insightful experience.
Our lives are so hectic and busy that we shove our greatest ideas into the back of our minds and then we get surprised and frustrated when we realize we are not the person we once thought we would be… Some of these dreams would have been the ones to take us to the next level, but we made the choice to stay busy instead.
This “letters to future self” thing is not a novelty. Back in the day we used to write it on paper, put it in a dated envelope, seal it put it away somewhere, hoping we would remember to open it on the marked day. Most of the time the letter would be forgotten for years, decades. Now we can benefit from technology. As long as the site you use to program your future self letter doesn’t go down, you will get a “surprise” letter in the future. For far future letters (5+ years), I recommend people set up the e-mail in 2 or 3 different services, copying and pasting the same text on them, just in case a few of them go out of business in 5 or 10 years. For time frames longer than that – say, you want to send a letter to your future self 40 years from now – I recommend the old method and some other type of reminder that doesn’t rely on a third-party.
The greatest benefit of the letters to future self, however, is the opportunity to keep reminding yourself of your vision and goals along the way. Of course, we all the technology we have at hand, we have other means to do that, but there’s something romantic about getting an e-mail from yourself! It’s also different in the way that it’s not just a plain reminder – if done the right way – it’s an actual letter, it has your arguments, your thoughts, your personality in it. You can get a good feel of who you were back when you wrote the letter, where you were in life, the feelings you had, the motives that got you to want a certain dream and what not. You can’t get those things from a quick app reminder or a post-it note you stuck somewhere.
You can set up both types of letters: the long-term letters, writing about what you expect you would have become, the place in your life you expect to be in a very long time frame; but also you should write the short, but meaningful reminders set up to be sent monthly, quarterly and yearly to keep you on track. How elaborated should these e-mails be it’s up to you of course. Some people don’t like to write a lot. I do (you’d figure, right?) so I write about 1000 – 2000 words per reminder. I like to base my arguments and explain to my future self what exactly was I thinking and where I was coming from with those ideas. This habit actually helps a great deal to remind myself not about the goal itself, but WHY I wanted it in the first place. The more prolific you are at explaining the details of your current thought process, argumenting why you think that goal is good for you, what you expect from it and how you think you can achieve it, the easier it will be to understand what exactly you were thinking when you wrote the letter.
It’s interesting how easy is it to forget our motivations along the way. We might know we wanted certain things in the past but we can’t figure out why anymore, that motivation is long gone. Without motivation, however, it becomes very difficult to keep chasing that dream, you have forgotten WHY you wanted it! Of course, we change and we need different things in different times in our lives, so registering clearly the reasons why we believe today we should reach a certain goal helps us understand and, if necessary, adapt your dreams in the future to our then current needs and expectations.
It’s also motivating and interesting to see our own growth through our past letters. Not everything can (or has to) be disappointing! As your current moment and personality are saved in this time capsule, when you open it in the future, your then more mature and hopefully more successful self will realize how much progress you have made, even if some goals were forgotten along the way. If you get organized and plan your dreams, however, the chances that you’ll be disappointed with your letters in the future are slim!