James Janson Young
Future Gifting
James Janson Young has worked in and around government, both in the UK and abroad, for over a decade. As a keen musician, he has toured the US with Paul Weller as a session guitarist and continues to play, write and record new music.

James makes short films and writes a regular newsletter exploring how to become ‘future-fit’ in an age of uncertainty and short-term thinking. He currently lives with his family in Denmark.

James has been practicing ‘future-gifting’ for over five years. He first coined the idea whilst recovering from major surgery. His sense of the future had essentially “collapsed”. But, he found that doing small things he would thank himself for when he enjoyed their positive impact, say an hour or a day later, offered a way to reconnect with the future. This reinforced the idea that the future can be shaped for the better through the actions we take today. The idea grew from there as he shared it with family and friends. This has inspired him to find better ways for us all to engage more positively and purposefully with the future.

 Important questions shaping life, work and the wider world require you and I to lift our eyes to the horizon and look through a longer-term lens. But, being such a vast expanse of possibility, the future can look pretty daunting. So, how can you engage with it in a more positive and purposeful way? How do you even start?

Well, here’s a simple idea to reframe your relationship with the future. I call it ‘future-gifting’.

In its simplest form, future-gifting is the straightforward, instinctive act of doing something in the present to support yourself (or those around you) in the future. It’s a practice of being generous to your future-self in order to help them out a little and shape your future in the process. You can think of it as a method, tool or framework. Or, simply, a way of engaging with the world. 

Now, you may well be thinking, how is future-gifting any different from my current toiling through a preparatory to-do list? Isn’t it just slapping a name tag on the thousands of acts I perform everyday – washing, cleaning, tidying, sorting, studying, working? After all, these acts help me in my future, don’t they?

Well, what makes future-gifting different is that it shifts your perspective from a sense of obligation or burden, to a sense of opportunity to be generous and help yourself out in the future.

At its heart, future-gifting invites you to get to know your future-self. It encourages you to see the world through their eyes. You might even begin to see them as a friend that you’d like to help. 

So next time you think about your future, say, a month, year or decade ahead, take a moment to really imagine what might be the needs and wishes of your future-self? Then, take a few small actions in the present to help meet those needs and wishes. Perhaps you clear your future-self’s path of a few foreseeable obstacles. Or you add something fun and enjoyable to their day. You might even find a way to gift your future-self something that achieves both.

With each act of future-gifting, you’re practicing a kind of empathy towards your future-self. In parallel, this sharpens the same mental muscles you use for self-control (which might help nudge you to take action). Add to the mix a growing sense of generosity and gratitude, and your practice of future-gifting has established a cycle of positive-feedback: empathy strengthens self-control, which encourages action, which triggers a sense of generosity, which sets up tomorrow’s pang of gratitude, which makes you want to try it all over again…

Simple steps to shape your future, gratefully received.

You can apply this idea to almost any setting in your life – personal or professional – and across any time horizon you choose. 

Why not even extend your embrace of the future to include and help others? You can even use future-gifting as a lens through which to consider wider societal and global issues that you care about. What does our natural environment need? And not just here in the present, but in the future ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred or one thousand years? In what small way can you future-gift the planet today?

Let's bring the focus back to you. Thinking about what’s to come can feel overwhelming and, at times, uncomfortable – particularly in these uncertain times. But, one way to start engaging with the future in a more positive and purposeful way is to show your future-self some generosity. By making friends with them, you’ll make friends with the future.

Wherever and however you chose to practice it, future-gifting has at its heart three simple steps. First, consider your future (note, I didn’t say “predict”). Second, imagine and anticipate your future needs and wishes. And third, gift the future something that will be gratefully received by your future-self in the weeks, months, decades ahead.

Your future will thank you for it.

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