And it has some important implications for leaders. Among them: Imagining a future self that is realistic, rather than fantastic, is more likely to lead to satisfaction and success.
In his new book, Personal Intelligence: The Power of Personality and How It Shapes Our Lives, Mayer describes personal intelligence as “the capacity to draw out, and reason about, information about personality.” We use this mental ability, he says, to deduce how to behave with others, how others will behave toward us, to better understand our own needs, and to map out our future plans.
Mayer and his colleagues have developed the Test of Personal Intelligence (TOPI). In one segment of the test, they seek to determine how people can best connect their present self with their future. A key discovery: Rather than imagining the end result of a future goal, such as playing in a major symphony orchestra, it’s more effective to visualize practicing your instrument each day. Practice, explains Mayer, provides the best bridge from the present to the future.
For leaders, here’s the aha: You may be limiting your future potential by putting too much pressure on yourself (and your organization) today. Fantastic, far-off goals tend to shut off possibilities that may open up in the future, but can’t be foreseen now. If you’re so locked into a goal that you’re virtually blind to everything else, you risk robbing yourself of a brighter future.
Here are five strategies you can use today to maximize your personal future:
1. Strive sensibly, not sensationally. Dilbert creator Scott Adams contends that setting sensational goals is a recipe for disappointment, regret, and failure. “The world is completely unpredictable now,” he said in a recent interview with Fast Company. “You can’t predict where your career will be in a year. You can’t predict what technologies will change the world. You can’t predict whether robots will be taking your jobs. So picking a goal in this world has its downsides.”
2. Take the road less traveled. As a young man in his native Austria, Peter Drucker couldn’t have dreamed of his future as the world’s preeminent management guru. That was not a career option then. (And only became so in large part to Drucker’s efforts.) Drucker came to the United States in 1937, while in his late 20s, and slowly but steadily built a career as an esteemed professor, multimillion-selling author, and sought-after consultant to major corporations, nonprofits, and even several presidential administrations. There are times when leaders don’t take the road less traveled—they pave it.
3. Ride the waves of societal change. Today,Drew Gilpin Faust is president of Harvard University. But what if, as a young college graduate in 1968, she had locked into one career goal? It would have shut her out of a position that, more than four decades later, came about only when society moved into a new, more enlightened direction. When Faust graduated from Bryn Mawr College in the late ‘60s, the thought of one day becoming a university president, much less at a place like Harvard, was futile: “I would’ve had to be quite crazy to have such a notion in my head at that age,” she told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.
4. Be multidimensional. Careers evolve as we evolve.After leaving office in 1981, President Jimmy Carter forged a highly meaningful, multidimensional career. With his wife Rosalynn, he created the Carter Center, a nonprofit public policy center dedicated to fighting disease, hunger, poverty, conflict, and oppression around the world, and also became a professor at Emory University and a best-selling author and poet. (Not to mention he’s now the most famous Sunday school teacher in Georgia.) No one ever identified that combination of roles and positions as a career goal. But Carter didn’t limit himself to previous notions of what ex-presidents should do with their lives. He staked out and claimed uncharted territory.
5. Act with mindfulness. To think clearly about the future, your mind must be up to the task. This is one reason that mindfulness is so hot today. And if you think it’s not accepted in the business world, think again. Consider Jeremy Hunter, a contributor to Mindful magazine, who recently was named Professor of the Year for the fourth time at the Drucker School at Claremont Graduate University. Hunter has long taught mindfulness to executive-education students, and describes his series, The Executive Mind, as “demanding and transformative.” What began as a seven-week pilot class became so popular it morphed into 28 weeks of mindfulness-based programming.
By using your personal intelligence, a brighter, more successful future is within your grasp. Put these five strategies to work today—for the sake of your tomorrow.