Where Do You See Your Future Beginning?: U Journaling Practice

finding the sweet spot circles
The first section of my book Finding the Sweet Spot is about discovering where what you’re good at, what you love doing, and what is needed in the world (that you care about) intersect. The book describes a number of exercises you can use to help hone in on this ‘sweet spot’. Over our lives, as we learn more (including more about ourselves) and change, this sweet spot will change, too. The search for the sweet spot is a lifelong, evolving one.

On the weekend I pointed you to an approach my friend Jean-SÈbastien has successfully used to help a group of people find their collective sweet spot — the work they as a group are ‘meant’ to do. Today I want to bring to your attention an approach you can use personally if you really haven’t a clue what you are meant to do — if you don’t even know where to start. It’s an exercise in acquiring self-knowledge, designed by Otto Scharmer’s Presencing Institute.

The exercise entails answering the following 17 questions, a process that Scharmer says should take you a couple of hours. It’s called the U Journaling Practice, and the questions are as follows:

  1. Challenges: Look at yourself from outside as if you were another person: What are the 3 or 4 most important challenges or tasks that your life (work and non-work) currently presents?
  2. Self: Write down 3 or 4 important facts about yourself. What are the important accomplishments you have achieved or competencies you have developed in your life (examples: raising children; finishing your education; being a good listener)?
  3. Emerging Self: What 3 or 4 important aspirations, areas of interest, or undeveloped talents would you like to place more focus on in your future journey (examples: writing a novel or poems; starting a social movement; taking your current work to a new level)?
  4. Frustration: What about your current work and/or personal life frustrates you the most?
  5. Energy: What are your most vital sources of energy? What do you love?
  6. Inner resistance: What is holding you back? Describe 2 or 3 recent situations (in your work or personal life) where you noticed one of the following three voices kicking in, which then prevented you from exploring the situation you were in more deeply:
    • Voice of Judgment: shutting down your open mind (downloading instead of inquiring)
    • Voice of Cynicism: shutting down your open heart (disconnecting instead of relating)
    • Voice of Fear: shutting down your open will (holding on to the past or the present instead of letting go
  7. The crack: Over the past couple of days and weeks, what new aspects of your Self have you noticed? What new questions and themes are occurring to you now?
  8. Your community: Who makes up your community, and what are their highest hopes in regard to your future journey? Choose three people with different perspectives on your life and explore their hopes for your future (examples: your family; your friends; a parentless child on the street with no access to food, shelter, safety, or education). What might you hope for if you were in their shoes and looking at your life through their eyes?
  9. Helicopter: Watch yourself from above (as if in a helicopter). What are you doing? What are you trying to do in this stage of your professional and personal journey?
  10. Imagine you could fast-forward to the very last moments of your life, when it is time for you to pass on. Now look back on your life’s journey as a whole. What would you want to see at that moment? What footprint do you want to leave behind on the planet? What would you want to be remembered for by the people who live on after you?
  11. From that (future) place, look back at your current situation as if you were looking at a different person. Now try to help that other person from the viewpoint of your highest future Self. What advice would you give? Feel, and sense, what the advice is — and then write it down.
  12. Now return again to the present and crystallize what it is that you want to create: your vision and intention for the next 3-5 years. What vision and intention do you have for yourself and your work? What are some essential core elements of the future that you want to create in your personal, professional, and social life? Describe as concretely as possible the images and elements that occur to you.
  13. Letting-go: What would you have to let go of in order to bring your vision into reality? What is the old stuff that must die? What is the old skin (behaviors, thought processes, etc.) that you need to shed?
  14. Seeds: What in your current life or context provides the seeds for the future that you want to create? Where do you see your future beginning?
  15. Prototyping: Over the next three months, if you were to prototype a microcosm of the future in which you could discover “the new” by doing something, what would that prototype look like?
  16. People: Who can help you make your highest future possibilities a reality? Who might be your core helpers and partners?
  17. Action: If you were to take on the project of bringing your intention into reality, what practical first steps would you take over the next 3 to 4 days?

The purpose of this exercise is not, as it might first appear, to create a roadmap of your future life and career. The real purpose is to get important insights about yourself. If you’ve never thought about your Gifts or your Passions, these insights are likely to come from questions 2, 3, 5, and 7 — but only if you give a lot of thought to them, and if you have either the experience or imagination to really know what the answers to these questions are or might be. If you can’t answer these questions easily, you may have to try some new things to discover what you really love, and what you really do well. You may also find that some of the things you’ve idealized, that you think you would love doing, you’d actually not like at all.

For others, more knowledgeable about their Gifts and Passions, the insights may well come from the “What’s holding you back?” questions 1, 4, 6 and 13.

Questions 8-11 are about perspective. In my book I suggest as an exercise writing your own obituary, assuming you’ve accomplished everything you hoped to in your life, to gain that perspective. Insights from these questions are likely for those who are so bogged down in their day-to-day existence they can’t see any way out, or forward.

If (or once) you have that perspective, the insights are likely to come from the “First next steps” questions 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17. If the first 11 questions have forced you onto the high-diving platform, these last questions are the ones that will push you to jump. You may get cold feet and be tempted to go back and modify your answers to the earlier questions, and make those intentions and dreams more modest.

I hope you can resist this temptation. Better to sit down on that high lonely perch and think awhile, than to make the humiliating climb back down the ladder. I confess the last four questions are the ones that I found the hardest, and my tentative answers to them brought me the most startling insight. I’m a lifelong procrastinator, and even in my Last 37 Days exercise (another exercise I’d highly recommend for gaining self-knowledge) I was pretty damned complacent — saying it wouldn’t give me enough time to do anything new and important, so I’d just spend it in reflection, alone.

So my answer to question 14 was: My future begins with meeting a lot of new people, people I’ve intended or always wanted to meet, and inviting them to co-invent our future together. That will take a lot of courage, perhaps more than I have, yet. It will also require me to keep an open mind about the new people I meet, to love them more easily, and to see the opportunity to live and make a living with them, even if it may not be obvious at first. I think I know what I am intended to do, and to be, but perhaps this answer will change as I explore, collectively in conversation in community with people I love, our collective intention.

And my answer to question 15 was: It would be the first collective design of an (intentional) Natural Community with three or four Natural Enterprises operating within it. The very concept of a genuine collective design, of trusting other people enough to have them co-design your future, is very frightening. But I don’t think working models are likely to come from anyone’s individual genius — not social or ecological models anyway, since they are inherently complex. Individual genius is useful only for the merely complicated designs — technologies. And technologies aren’t going to fix what’s broken.

My answer to question 16 was: I haven’t the faintest idea. My initial answer was the people in my blogroll, and specifically that subset in my Gravitational Community shown in the right sidebar of this blog. But I don’t even know most of these people, not really. Somehow, however, I think we’ll awkwardly find each other. With lots of practice inviting others to explore these important questions with us, we might finally learn who we’re meant to live and make a living with. I am completely convinced it is not one person, not a nuclear family. In community is the future of the world, even though almost none of us remembers or knows what real community is about.

And my answer to question 17 was: Keep on being myself, and doing what I do, specifically: to play, to love, to learn, to converse, to give (ideas, energy, knowledge, capacities), to be self-disciplined in maintaining my health and expanding my personal capacity, to write, to reflect, and to be attentive. Some may say that is not ‘intentional’ enough, that it is not a clear vector towards my intentions in questions 14 and 15. But we can only control so much of our own lives, and we have to learn to trust that, by being the best we can be, and by being open, the paths we must follow, together, will emerge from our collective wisdom, and these paths will realize our collective intention.

We must not procrastinate, but we must be patient.

What insights did you get from answering these questions? What did you learn about yourself? Where do you see your future beginning?

This entry was posted in Working Smarter. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Where Do You See Your Future Beginning?: U Journaling Practice

  1. These questions from the Presencing Toolbook are really powerful. I did answer to them last November and your post gave me the idea to go read what I did answer at that time. Really interesting!I am happy to see that you are re-connecting with Scharmer’s work. It is an essential part of the authentic leader’s diet!

  2. Oups! forgot to answer to your questions!I see these questions as a «workout» to get used to travel through the «U». It develops the capacity to sense when your actions are determined by the voices of judgment, cynicism or fear. It also helps to identify and practice the movements of suspending, letting-go and letting-come. Finally, it brings you to envision yourself in the future… another important part of presencing!Really a useful and wisely designed set of questions.

Comments are closed.