As we go through life, it’s easy to forget about some of the important decisions, promises, and other life-altering events that have helped shape us. But taking note of how much we’ve achieved and overcome can help to give us a deeper self-awareness, increase gratitude, and light the way towards future goals and ambitions.
One effective way to give yourself affirmation about who you are and where you’re going is to write a letter to your future self about your fears, core values, and future goals.
The liberating thing about penning a note to future you is that – much like journaling – there are no rules. It can include anything that’s important to you, or that you think you’d want your future self to remember in one, five, or even 10 years time.
For example, if you’ve recently experienced heartbreak and come out the other side, you could write a letter to your future self to read if it ever happens again; reminding yourself that as devastating as it feels right now, you will get through this – because you have before.
Or perhaps you could include memories of parents, grandchildren or other family members that you would love to remember and treasure later on. Whatever you decide to write about, always keep in mind that this letter is yours, and yours alone, and can take on whichever form you like.
As with many writing exercises, often the hardest part is getting started. You might wonder how best to structure your letter, which year you want your future self to read this letter, and how to choose what to write about.
Here, we’ll briefly outline the benefits of writing a letter to your future self, and give you a few ideas to help you on your way.
Reasons to write a letter to your future self
Writing a letter to yourself can help you see how you’ve changed or developed, and what has remained constant, which can provide greater self-awareness about who your authentic self really is.
For example, when you open your letter in five years time, you might realise that you no longer have low self-esteem and have grown in confidence, but that you still remain an introvert – and gain energy from spending time by yourself. You might have originally linked this introvertedness to low self-esteem and a feeling that you need to hide away, but now realise that you need regular time with yourself to reset and recharge, before you go back out into the world.
Being able to reflect on who you are as a person, draw conclusions about yourself, and discover what you’d like to work on, can help you create a life you’re proud to lead.
A focus on what’s important
Research has shown that people who can express gratitude and appreciation for the positives in their life, generally suffer from fewer aches and pains. Not only can gratitude help people heal and move on from trauma, but it can also reduce feelings of anger and frustration.
For this reason, it can be helpful to include things that you are grateful for in your letter, so that even if your future self isn’t where you want to be, you can remind yourself of a moment when you were content and thankful. This can offer you hope for the future, and remind you about what’s most important to you.
You can read more about the power of gratitude in our article How practising gratitude can lead to a happier life.
If you have goals and ambitions that you want to work towards in life, then writing a letter to your future self can be a helpful way to check in with yourself at a later date, and to make sure that you’re heading in the right direction.
The busyness of daily life can mean that many of our goals and ambitions get placed on hold while we attend to other commitments. Sometimes we become so sidetracked that these goals become deprioritised, and perhaps even forgotten about.
Allowing your future self to check in with your past, can help to reignite past passions, rediscover what makes you tick, and get back on the path to achieving what you’ve always wanted to.
Putting your future goals on paper can also make you more likely to start taking steps towards them today, and to evaluate your life and happiness in the present.
Aside from anything else, taking some time to write a letter to your future self can give you some memories to treasure later on. Many of us know how comforting it can be to look back at old outfits that we wore, or at TV shows or music that we watched or listened to – even if we didn’t think too much about these things at the time.
Reading a letter from our past selves can offer the same level (or perhaps an even deeper) level of nostalgia, by allowing us to relive past experiences and appreciate the journey that we’ve been on.
9 tips for writing a letter to your future self
1. Decide on an age or a year that you want your future self to read this letter
Choosing an age or a year that you want your future self to open and read your letter can give you a clearer idea about what you hope to have achieved, or where you’d like to be by that time. This way, you’ll be able to see whether your goals have been met, or whether you still have work to do to get there.
If you still have work to do, then a letter from your past self can act as a powerful motivator for helping you to stay on the right track. And if you have achieved your goals by the time you open your letter, then this is still an uplifting reminder of what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it.
Your letter could be a way to check in with yourself in a year’s time, to see whether you’ve stuck at your New Year’s Resolutions, or in five years time to see whether you’re staying true to your core values and beliefs – perhaps in your relationships, or your career. If not, then this could give you the nudge you need to start making some important positive changes.
2. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a good friend
When writing to yourself, it can be helpful to keep it casual, and speak to yourself like you would a good friend. This will not only let your personality shine through and give future you a better idea about who you were when you wrote the letter, but it also makes for a more reassuring read later on.
Letters to our future selves are designed to be kind and comforting, and help us to connect with ourselves on a more intimate level.
3. Give a brief reminder of what your life is currently like
To allow yourself to see just how much your life has changed since you wrote the letter, it can be a good idea to give a brief outline of who you are currently. What are your interests? Where are you living, and who are you living with? Where do you work?
These details will help you to form a more complete picture of what your life was like when you wrote the letter – and will help trigger memories when you start reading it once again.
4. Explore your fears
You ideally want your letter to be as raw and insightful as possible. This means not holding anything back. Try not to be afraid to use the letter to explore your fears about the present and the future. For example, you might be worried about your job stability, or want to meet new people but feel afraid to speak up and reach out because you’re concerned that you’ll be rejected or judged.
By working out what scares you most, you can consider what steps you’d like to take to overcome these fears, such as letting go of fears about the things that you can’t control, or working on your confidence and self-esteem.
Then when you read your letter in a few years time, you can see which fears you’ve moved past and reflect on how you did this. This can enable you to identify and move past new fears that might have taken their place.
5. Set out your goals and ambitions
Your letter is also a good place to set out your hopes and dreams for the future. For example, you might write “By now I hope I have made a career change and I’m working with animals” or “I hope that I have lost some weight and feel more confident in my own skin.”
The idea here, isn’t to make your future self feel bad if they haven’t yet achieved these things – it’s to help you reassess whether these things are still important to you and whether there’s more that needs to be done to get you there.
If you’re not sure exactly what you want to achieve in the future, then your goals can be fairly broad, for example, “I hope I am happy, and have meaning and purpose in my life”. You could then go on to explore what some of your key strengths, abilities, and passions are – as these might act as clues or indicators as to how you might be able to achieve this.
6. Offer advice
Your past self might be able to offer advice and impart wisdom on your future self, by reminding you how you dealt with previous situations. When life becomes difficult, it can be easy to become overwhelmed and resort to the default mode of feeling like we’re unable to cope or move forward.
The past can act as a testament of times when you did move forward, and remind you that as you have done before, you can do it again. There’s a lot to be said about older generations passing down wisdom to younger generations, but we can also learn a lot from our past selves.
7. Define your values and beliefs
Our values and beliefs are an integral part of who we are, and it can help to remind your future self of what these are. For example:
Family – Did a family member make a mistake that you vowed you’d never repeat? If so, then remind yourself of how important this promise that you made to yourself is.
Health – What are your values and beliefs about your health? It can help to remind your future self about the ways you believe that you should be taking care of yourself. It’s easy to let our health slide during times of stress, but a reminder from our past selves about how important our health is, could give us the reality check we need to be kinder to ourselves.
Romance – Are there certain things that are non-negotiable for you in a relationship? This is a great opportunity to check in with your future self and make sure that your relationship or any future relationships don’t compromise your core values and beliefs.
Friends – You could mention any friends that are particularly close to you or have given heartwarming or funny memories that you want to treasure forever. If you’re no longer friends in the future, then you’ll still have fond memories to look back on, and if you are – it can be fun to see how much you’ve both developed.
Career – What are you currently doing for work, and what do you plan to be doing by the time you read your letter? Writing your career goals down in a letter to the future you, could help make you more likely to follow through with them.
Finance – Are you good with money? Do you have a savings plan? Or have you always had plans to use your pension in a specific way? If so, then tell your future self about what your current financial situation is like and what you hope it will be like in the future. This could help you to reevaluate your financial situation, and might influence some of your financial decisions in the future.
8. Ask yourself questions
It’s easy for life to become routine, and for us to stop asking ourselves the key questions that could unlock some happiness. Examples of questions that you could ask your future self include:
- Are you happy?
- Do you enjoy your job?
- Are you happy with where you live?
- What are you really passionate about?
- What are you most grateful for?
- Am I living a life that is true to myself?
- Am I taking enough care of my mental and physical health?
Questioning your future self encourages you to hold yourself accountable for your own success and happiness, and to perhaps recognise where you might have been neglecting it. This might be because you’re busy tending to others or doing what you think you should do, rather than what you want to do.
Asking the right questions could give you the reality check you need to be able to start making some positive changes in your life.
9. Seal and store the letter somewhere that you won’t be tempted to read it early
You might decide to handwrite your letter or type and print it. Either way, it’s best to place it in a sealed envelope and put it away somewhere safe where you won’t be tempted to read it before the planned date. Address the envelope to yourself, label it clearly with the open date, and then try to forget about it until then.
If you’re worried that you’ll forget to open it, then you can always mark a date on a calendar or put a note in your diary – along with details of where you’ve hidden it. While you might find it best to label your letter with a set date, you could also label it with something like ‘Read when you’re going through heartache’ or ‘Read when the kids have left home’. You might already have an inkling that these are the sorts of times that you would benefit from reconnecting with yourself the most.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to create a hardcopy letter, then you could use an electronic service, like Future Me, to email a free letter to yourself, on a date of your choosing. You can choose whether to make the letter completely private, or public but anonymous, so that others can enjoy it too. To see some of the anonymous letters that others have already sent themselves, you can have a look here.
Once you’ve read your letter, you could always make a plan to write another one. Some people find it helps to write a letter to their future selves every few years.
A final thought…
It’s easy to feel unsure about the future, or worry about how we might handle certain situations should they arise. But, writing a letter to your future self can help to remind you how strong, resilient, and capable you are.
It can also help you to remain true to yourself, and to hold yourself accountable for your own happiness. Plus, there’s nothing better than hearing from an old friend – especially one that knows us better than anyone else ever will.
Have you written a letter to your future self? What sort of things did you include? And how long will you wait to open it? Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.