A couple of weeks ago I posted about a new initiative called Positive Ageing. I went to a pilot event at the end of January and it provided some fascinating insights. One of these was a mental exercise that I thought of as a new take on the “future history” concept.

Muhammad Ali and visualisation

Muhammad Ali turned 70 last month. Now a Parkinson’s sufferer, he was a sporting icon; one of the best-known people on the planet, whether or not you like boxing. During that extraordinary boxing career, he apparently used the term “future history”, to describe how he would put himself into an almost trance-like state and visualise the outcome of planned fights. He was famously adept at predicting not just the result of a fight, but the round in which it would end.

Ali didn’t invent the term future history, though, and I’m not sure who did. Science fiction author Robert A Heinlein published a novel of that name and, according to Wikipedia:

A future history is a postulated history of the future and is used by authors in the subgenre of speculative fiction (or science fiction) to construct a common background for fiction. Sometimes the author publishes a timeline of events in the history, while other times the reader can reconstruct the order of the stories from information provided therein.”

Looking backwards – from ten years hence

That Wikipedia quote includes the word timeline, and that was the thrust of the exercise presented to us seminar attendees.

Maybe you have heard of the idea of imagining being the guest of honour at, say, one’s own 80th birthday party (or a ghost at one’s own funeral?) and then asking oneself: what would I like people to be saying about me and my life? Well, the seminar leaders Dave Griffiths and Guy Robertson of Positive Ageing went one step further. They had a roomful of, well, no-longer-young people (I’ve always said that “middle-aged” means ten years older than whatever age I am now). We all knew that for those years behind us, we could not change the outcome.

So the suggestion was this: imagine yourself in, say, 10 years, looking back at yourself as you are today. “What would you like to have done, in the intervening ten years?” In other words, focus on what you can change, not on your past history. I’m sure that the organisers could have explained this better than I, but this “future history looking back” was for me a powerful exercise.



The first two-day “Positive Ageing” event is taking place in Bristol (UK), on 21 & 22 April 2012. Details: info@positiveageing.org.uk

Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc

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