Chapter 2. Personal Foresight - Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Seven Mindsets of Adaptive Living

As we deepen our journey into personal foresight, let us look now at the different mindsets, or mental orientations, that we all must balance against each other as we seek to live productive and successful lives.

Three Mindsets of Time (PPF)

The three most fundamental mindsets that we each balance, every moment in life, are our thoughts and feelings about past, present and future. Successful people live in all three of these mindsets, all the time, and they shift between them in various contexts. Let’s look briefly at each in turn:

1. Past. Knowing our history is the foundation for knowing who we are, and where we can go. If we don’t understand our past, we will be ignorant of many of the probabilities and possibilities of our present life. In the modern world, this includes a basic knowledge of the 500 year epic of science, the twenty-thousand year history of human civilization, and even something about the five billion year history of life on Earth. As Cicero says, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

At the same time, if we spend too much time in the past, obsessed by our history, traditions, or nostalgia, we can easily lose sight of both the present and our future. So we must balance this very important mindset with the other two.

2. Present. If we aren’t sufficiently attentive to the present, we will miss all that is happening around us right now, and won’t see others, and ourselves, for who we really are. Books on mindfulness, like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are (2005) and Williams and Penman’s Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan (2012), and Bohm’s On Dialog (1996) are excellent at helping us be present to those around us. They calm us, and return us to active listening in all our interactions with others. We stop planning what we are going to say next, and truly try hear and be in the moment.

At the same time, we must actively know our past, and create useful futures. Perceptive authors like Eckhart Tolle are great champions of presencing. In books of his like The Power of Now (2004) you will find many good strategies for getting out of dysfunctional stories and habits we use in thinking about both the past and the future. At the same time, Tolle overclaims when he says things like: “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” The reality is that our minds are built to both model and live in the past, the present, and the future at the same time. Wisdom and success come when we learn how to balance all three of these mindsets of time, in all the contexts of our lives.

3. The Future. This is the mindset that we are most concerned with developing in this Guide. We all have expectations, priorities, strategies, and plans about the future, and we should make at least some of those as conscious, deliberate, and tested as we can. Some anthropologists argue that this future orientation, and the areas of our brain that create it, are the essential processes that separate us from other animals, the defining essence of humanity.

The Three Mindsets of Time, mapped with associated Personality Traits (Furey and Fortunato 2012)

That may be overclaiming, as all animals are likely to have some sense of past, present, and future. But we must grant that our human ability to imagine the future is now, after two million years of cultural evolution, uniquely advanced, and thus our future is particularly expansive. The faster and more complex the world gets, the more we can see both future opportunity and risk.

An online self-diagnostic that I like very much, MindTime, is an excellent first step in better understanding and navigating the three mindsets of time. It will help you better recognize, empathize with, and work with with the different types of people who like to mentally live more in the past, in the present, or in the future. It will also help you find out where you tend to fall on that spectrum, on average and in various contexts. I recommend taking their free 18-question online survey to see where you tend to live, most often, among these three fundamental mindsets, and paying for their more in-depth diagnostic. Different personality types tend to live more in each of these three mindsets.

At right is a figure that maps personality traits to these three mindsets. This figure comes from a 2012 publication by John Furey and Vincent Fortunato in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. Furey is the founder of the nonprofit foundation, MindTime. They are doing excellent work in helping people to better understand themselves, and I strongly recommend their framework, as a great first step to better understanding yourself and others.

Five Mindsets of Foresight (Five Ps) 

The Three Ps of Adaptive Foresight are three most fundamental ways we create foresight. Together with the rest of the Eight Skills, they give us a uniquely powerful cycle, the Do Loop, for generating adaptive foresight and action. We can very successfully apply the Eight Skills to our own lives, as well as our organizations, and we seek to do so throughout this Guide.

But when we turn from skills to mindsets, the mental orientations we use as we think about future, there are five that seem particularly important. We have already discussed the Three Ps of foresight practice, but we will now see that there are two others mindsets that are less familiar to many, but no less important.  The last two are harder for most people, and we often use them only unconsciously, so we tend to talk about them less then the other three. Our great challenge is to make the last two conscious, and as well-used and well-critiqued as the Three Ps we have discussed. Fortunately for us, all five of these mindsets be represented with words beginning with the letter P, so we can call them the Five Ps, or the Five Mindsets of Foresight Thinking.

Let’s look briefly at each of them now:

  1. Future – Probabilities. Good foresight work begins with knowing and expecting as many of the trends, cycles, predictions, and circumstances of tomorrow that we can see, today.
  2. Future – Possibilities. We must also creatively imagine alternatives, opportunities, risks, scenarios, wildcards, experiments, and contingencies that might alter these probabilities.
  3. Future – Preferences/Priorities/Plans. We must also draw out of ourselves our current thoughts and feelings on preferences, establish priorities, and make plans.
  4. Future – Progress. We must also ask if we are making progress, and try to define, measure, and critique this abstract but very important concept.
  5. Future – Purpose. At regular intervals, we must also occasionally take stock of who we are, and why we think that we, or our organizations, exist.

All five of these mindsets can be practiced in all four of our foresight domains, Personal, Organizational, Global-Societal, and Universal.  The last two of these five, progress and purpose, are particularly influenced by the models and beliefs that we hold in the Universal domain. When we have models and beliefs of progress and purpose in our Biggest Picture of how the world works, these can either help or hinder us greatly, as we ask what progress and purpose look like in our Personal, Organizational, and Global-Societal domains. It is my hope that those chapters have been helpful, at least in some small measure, as as you take stock of these very important concepts for yourself, your family, your organizations, and our global society.

Seven Mindsets of Adaptive Living (Seven Ps)

We can now put together the Three Mindsets of Time with the Five Mindsets of Foresight, to see Seven Mindsets of Adaptive Living. As all seven of these begin with the letter P, we can call them the Seven Ps. The Seven Mindsets that we constantly balance against each other, if we are to feel fulfilled and successful in our lives, are:

  1. Past
  2. Present 
  3. Future – Probabilities
  4. Future – Possibilities
  5. Future – Preferences/Priorities/Plans
  6. Future – Progress
  7. Future – Purpose

Again, the last two these, Progress and Purpose are the hardest to make conscious, but also among the most important. We will argue in Chapters 7 and 11 that we can usefully measure progress via Five Goals and Ten Values. Chapter 11 in particular will argue that we can best understand our purpose by recognizing we are here to do our small part to help the universe continue to evolve and develop, and to make progress toward both these apparently universal goals and values, and our own personal goals and values, in a world of continuous exponential change. Our model is surely incomplete and wrong in parts, but hopefully it will help you in your own search for what these two very important mindsets mean to you.

Let us now look at five particularly helpful life priorities that help us with personal foresight. These are an application of mindset five above, preferences/priorities/plans, that I think are particularly important to keep in mind, on a daily basis.