It should have been the happiest day of Buzz Aldrin’s life.
On 21st July 1969, he became one of the first people in history to walk on the moon.
The dedication, commitment, and skill required to achieve this was nothing less than superhuman.
Yet, in his new book ‘Personality Isn’t Permanent’, Dr Benjamin Hardy tells the story of how Aldrin’s life quickly spiralled downwards after coming back to Earth.
Aldrin developed a drinking problem, his prestigious military career ended on bad terms, and he went through a divorce.
Eventually, he was arrested for breaking and entering his girlfriend’s home.
How did this happen?
How did this great man’s life deteriorate so rapidly?
During his return flight home, a troubling thought occurred to him:
‘How can I possibly top this?’
In Aldrin’s mind, his life had peaked at 39, and there was no way he could ever top his achievement.
Up until this point, his whole life had been organised by this mission to get to the moon.
It was his north star that gave him direction, focus, and clarity.
Yet, by achieving it, he no longer had an exciting future to look forward to, and soon after, he plunged into deep despair, and destroyed almost everything good in his life.
“Always Make Your Future Bigger than Your Past.”Dan Sullivan
Aldrin’s story reveals one of the most powerful truths about human psychology:
We are a future orientated being.
When we have an exciting future to look forward to, it gives our life meaning, direction, hope and purpose.
It energises us.
When we don’t, it’s kind of like being lost at sea.
We don’t know where we’re going, life starts to feel meaningless and we become cynical about the world around us.
Therefore, one of the most important things you can ever do, is to consciously create a future vision for your life that compels and excites you.
So how do you do that?
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”Albert Einstein
Thought experiments enable us to explore future possibilities without having to experience them first hand.
For our purposes, they can also be a powerful tool for creating your ideal future.
In other words, you can use your imagination to step out of your current reality, dream up future possibilities that do not yet exist, and then use these possibilities to create a compelling and exciting future vision for your life.
In this post, we’ll cover seven effective thought experiments for doing just that.
#1 – Design Your Ideal Day
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ― Annie Dillard
When we’re asking ourselves what we want in the future, we think too broadly.
We think in terms of job titles; saying things like: ‘I want to be a writer’, ‘I want to be an entrepreneur’, or ‘I want to be a lawyer’.
However, often we think we want these things because of the status attached to them, not because of any intrinsic, authentic desire to do the activity that goes along with them.
Becoming a lawyer, for example, is one of the most sought after career paths in the USA.
Yet a study of 12,825 practicing lawyers found that over 28% of people in this profession suffer from depression.
Choosing a career path based on status ignores the fact every one of these job titles has a daily process attached to it.
So, instead of thinking in terms of job titles, it’s more effective to think in terms of daily processes.
Entrepreneur Jayson Gaignard recommends a thought experiment where you get crystal clear on what your perfect day looks like.
To be clear – your perfect day reflects what you want a typical day in your life to look like – so it has to be within reason. In other words, your perfect day can’t involve sleeping in until 3pm, binge watching netflix, and gorging on gargantuan amounts of pizza.
So, ask yourself – what does your perfect day look like?
What time do you get up? What do you do in the morning? What does your working day and environment look like? What do you do afterwards? Who are you spending your time with?
The trick is to be as detailed as possible.
If you have a vivid vision of your ideal day, it can be an effective filter for almost all future decisions.
If something comes up, and you’re not sure about whether to say yes or no, you can ask:
Will this get me closer to my ideal day? If it will, then it’s a yes. If it won’t, then it’s a no.
How we spend our days really is how we spend our lives.
Therefore, if we want to design a great life, the best place to start is by designing a great day.
#2 – Have a Conversation With your Future Self
Imagine coming home from work one day and entering your kitchen.
Sitting at the table is an older, wiser version of you ten years in the future.
After you recover from the initial shock, you sit down to hear what your future self has to tell you.
You’re surprised to learn that they’re living the kind of life you’ve always dreamed of.
They’re happy, confident, content, and fulfilled. They’ve pretty much got everything you want in life.
Your future self now offers you some advice on what you need to do to get to where they are.
What do they tell you?
#3 – Go to a Dinner Party in the Afterlife
What are your values?
What kind of person do you most want to become?
If you’re not sure about your answers to these two questions, Author Roman Krznaric recommends imagining yourself going to a dinner party in the after-life.
When you walk into the room, you see all of the different versions of you who you could have become – if you had made different choices in life.
There’s the version of you who put family and friendships first, the version of you who became obsessed with his career and climbing the corporate ladder, the you who spent their life travelling, the you who quit an unfulfilling job to do what you really wanted, the you who became an alcoholic, etc.
Now that you’ve thought about all the different ‘yous’ that could be at the dinner party – ask yourself:
- Who would you admire and want to go talk to?
- Who do you want to avoid?
Knowing who you’d most want to talk to is a clue to figuring out what your deepest values are, and the kind of person you most want to become.
Knowing who you’d avoid, can help you avoid some treacherous paths further down the line.
#4 – Write Your Own Obituary
An obituary is a summary of someone’s life after they have passed away.
It gives a brief biography, including things like; what kind of character they were, their notable achievements, and a chronology of major life events.
Usually, this is written by a close friend or loved one after the person’s death.
However, for our purposes, it can also be an effective thought experiment for designing your ideal future.
To use it, simply write about your life from the point of view of another person telling your story after you have died.
What would they say about you? What kind of person were you like to be around? What did you do for work? What achievements would they write about that you would be most proud of? What were your major life events?
This exercise can give you a ‘bird’s eye view’ of what’s most important to you, and the key things you want to achieve in this life before you leave it.
#5 – Eternal Recurrence
Eternal recurrence is a thought experiment devised by Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
It involves imagining that you have to relive the life you are currently living over and over again, until the end of time – with all of its joy, pain and sorrow.
When you imagine this scenario, how does it make you feel?
If it makes you happy, then you know you’re living in alignment.
If it depresses you, then it’s an indicator that you need to make some changes.
To make the most of this thought experiment, ask:
- If you knew that you had to keep repeating this life forever, how would you need to set it up so that it would be as enjoyable, meaningful, and fulfilling as possible?
- What areas of your life are you suffering in unnecessarily? And what can you do to remove it?
Nobody wants to suffer forever, so the ‘eternal recurrence’ thought experiment can help you remove unnecessary suffering from your life, maximise your wellbeing each day, and design a compelling future to work towards.
#6 – What Would You Do if You Couldn’t Fail?
Often we don’t attempt the things we really want to do in life because we’re afraid to fail.
As a social being, we’re acutely aware of the judgement of others.
And often we live our lives in such a way to fit the expectations of others, rather than going after our own dreams.
For years, Palliative Care Nurse Bronnie Ware, worked closely with people just before they died.
She got curious about their biggest regrets at the end of life, so she started to ask them, and detailed the results in this blog post.
Their number one regret?
‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.’
If we know that this is likely to be one of our biggest regrets too, we can consciously take action to prevent it.
One of the best ways to get over the fear of failure, is simply to ask:
If I couldn’t fail, what would I set out to achieve?
Often the limitations we place on ourselves are arbitrary and based on the cultural conditioning we grew up with.
But when we remove the fear of failure, it temporarily frees our minds from these limitations and conditioning, and allows us to dream up a future vision that we really are excited about.
#7 – Remove Money from the Equation
“You can’t eat dollar bills.”Alan Watts
Money isn’t wealth.
It’s merely an abstract measurement system we use to quantify it.
In the same way we measure height with centimetres, distance with miles, and weight with kilograms, we use money to measure wealth.
Real wealth includes all of the tangible human experiences that money (sometimes) can help us buy.
The food we eat, the time we spend with loved ones, our hobbies, the trips we go on, etc.
Yet, one of the great tragedies of the human experience is that we get these two things mixed up.
In other words, we get so blinded in our pursuit of the abstract measurement system (money), that we lose sight of the tangible human experiences (wealth) that it can help us buy.
Therefore, when designing your ideal future, it can help to temporarily remove money from the equation, so you can free your mind to think about what real wealth actually means to you.
If you already had one billion in the bank, how would you spend your time?
If you have a clear answer on this, you know what real wealth means to you, and can begin to engineer these activities into your ideal future.
There’s nothing wrong with making money – as long we don’t confuse it with real wealth.
Having an ideal future to look forward to is a necessary element of a fulfilling, meaningful and engaging life.
It energises us and provides a sense of direction and purpose.
However, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what we want our ideal future to look like, because our current circumstances get in the way.
The beauty of thought experiments is that they temporarily enable you to step out of your current reality, and into your imagination, where you can conceive of future possibilities that would have you leaping out of bed every morning, excited to start the day ahead.
The 7 thought experiments covered in this post are some of the most effective tools I’ve found for doing that.
Here’s a brief summary of what they are:
- Design your ideal day
- Have a conversation with your future self
- Go to a dinner party in the after life
- Write your own obituary
- Eternal recurrence
- Ask what you would do if you couldn’t fail
- Ask what you would do if you had a billion in the bank.
How do you plan your future?
Leave a comment below and share what works best for you.