“Self Authoring” by Jordan Peterson: my own experience and use in practice
Updated: Sep 17
As both a practitioner and scientist in mental health, I've always been intrigued by the intricate dance between the mind and its environment. Over the years, I've found that the stories we tell ourselves play a pivotal role in shaping our realities. This understanding isn't just theoretical for me; it's personal. I've employed the "Self Authoring" method in my own life and have seen transformative results. Moreover, in my professional practice, I often recommend it to clients who grapple with motivation and goal setting.
The "Self Authoring" technique, pioneered by the Canadian psychologist, Dr. Jordan Peterson, is a scientifically-backed approach to enhancing the quality and sense of purpose in life. Research has repeatedly shown that goal-setting has positive effects on life's quality, purpose, and (surprise-surprise) on the success rates of achieving set objectives.
Note: The description provided below is not an exact replica of the original materials but has been supplemented with personal symbolism. For a comprehensive understanding of the original method, visit:: https://www.selfauthoring.com/
Morisano D et al. Setting, Elaborating, and Reflecting on Personal Goals Improves Academic Performance. J Appl Psychol. 2010 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20230067
Schippers et al. A scalable goal-setting intervention closes both the gender and ethnic minority achievement gap. Nature, 2015 https://www.nature.com/articles/palcomms201514
Finnie et al. Using Future Authoring to Improve Student Outcomes. The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario http://www.heqco.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/HEQCO%20Formatted_EPRI-Mohawk.pdf
For the best experience, I recommend copying and pasting the text below into a Google Doc or an Evernote document (https://evernote.com/), filling in the spaces designated for answers to questions. Ideally, you should allocate time to complete the method over two separate days: Day 1 for Part 1, and Day 2 for Part 2.
[... your answer ...]
Part One: Your Ideal future
Engage in imaginative exercises that will assist you in defining your future. Answer the eight questions provided below, and then, over the span of 15 minutes, try to describe your ideal future in your own words without editing or criticizing. Allow yourself to dream and fantasize.
Enter a dreamlike state. This is a state akin to sleep, heavily reliant on internal imagery. This form of thinking lets your inner self speak in its own voice.
It's best to focus on a timeframe of three to five years into the future, although you might have reasons to concentrate on a shorter or longer period, ranging from eighteen months to ten years.
1.1 One Thing I Can Do Better
If you could choose just one thing to improve upon, what would it be? Reflect on this and try to jot down your thoughts for at least two minutes before moving on.
1.2 What I Want to Learn/Study
What would you like to learn more about in the next six months? Two years? Five years? Think about it and start writing for at least two minutes, then move on.
1.3 Working on Habits
Which of your habits need adjustment or improvement (in terms of work, family, health, social life, spiritual life)? Write down your thoughts for at least two minutes. Then, move on.
1.4 Your Social Life in the Future
Having friends and like-minded individuals is crucial for a meaningful, productive life. Take a moment to analyze your social circle. Think about the friends you might want to make and the new connections you might want to establish. What kind of social circle is most suitable for you? Describe your ideal social life. Continue for at least two minutes, then move on.
1.5 Your Leisure Time in the Future
Spend some time reflecting on how you'd like to change your leisure activities and what you'd like to fill your free time with, apart from work, family, school, or university obligations. The activities you choose should be beneficial and meaningful. Without a plan, people often default to the easiest option, like watching TV, wasting their personal time. Spending 4 hours a day (which isn't uncommon) amounts to 1,400 hours a year. That's equivalent to 35 40-hour work weeks, almost as much as an average person works in a year. If you value your time at $25 an hour, you're wasting $35,000 a year. Over a 50-year period, that's $1.8 million, not including interest or any increase in the value of your time as you progress. Describe what your leisure life would look like if it were truly meaningful and joyful. Write for at least two minutes, then move on.
1.6 Your Family Life in the Future
Reflect on your home and family. A peaceful, harmonious family life offers partners a sense of belonging and supports each other's ambitions and goals. Describe your ideal family. You can write about your parents, siblings, or your plans regarding your own partner, your children (if any or planned) - or all of them combined. What kind of partner would be best for you? How could you improve your relationship with your parents or siblings? Write for at least two minutes, then move on.
1.7 Your Career in the Future
Much of what people find important in life is tied to their career. A good career provides security, status, a sense of interest in life, and an opportunity to contribute to the community. Take a moment to think about your education, job, or both. Where do you want to be in six months? Two years? Five years? Why? What are you trying to achieve? Reflect and try to write your thoughts for at least two minutes, then move on.
1.8 Qualities You Admire
In one way or another, people we admire possess qualities we wish to have ourselves. Identifying and analyzing these qualities can help you determine who you want to become. Take some time to think about two or three people you admire the most. Who are they? Which of their qualities would you like to possess or develop in yourself? Write for at least two minutes, then proceed to the next point. Some people find it easier to organize their thoughts in the form of a brief outline.
1.9 Your Favorite Symbols, Heroes, and Characters
Have you ever felt a special kinship with a character from a movie, book, or perhaps a mythical figure or symbol? Who are these heroes to you? Which of their qualities resonate deeply with your worldview? Take some time to jot down your thoughts for at least two minutes, then proceed.
Ideal Future: Comprehensive Summary
You've just briefly noted your thoughts about your future, focusing on its specific aspects. The next step offers you the opportunity to consolidate everything you've pondered upon. Close your eyes. Try to vividly imagine your ideal future: Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? Where do you want to end up? Why is this important to you? How do you plan to pursue your goals? When will you start actualizing your plans?
Once you feel you've let your imagination roam freely, write about the ideal future you've just envisioned. Dedicate at least 15 minutes to this task.
Write continuously, trying not to pause or get distracted. Don't worry about spelling or grammar; you can correct any mistakes later. Keep dreaming as you write, and don't stop. Don't be afraid to let your imagination and ambitions soar. Imagine a life that you consider fulfilling, exciting, productive, creative, and worthy. Remember, you're writing for yourself. Choose goals that you want to pursue for personal reasons, not because someone else deems them important. No one finds happiness trying to live someone else's life. Tap into your deepest thoughts and feelings regarding all your personal goals.
The Future to Avoid: Comprehensive Summary
While working on the previous section, you documented your thoughts on a desired future. Clearly defining the future often helps reduce uncertainty in one's life, subsequently reducing the amount of negative emotions one chronically experiences. Such practices are immensely beneficial for cultivating self-confidence and for your mental and physical health. Having clear goals naturally increases your chances of experiencing positive emotions, as most joy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and engagement come from the process of achieving meaningful goals (not the end result, as many believe).
However, analyzing the future you'd like to avoid can also be invaluable. You've probably met individuals who, at some point, made extremely poor decisions and now live a life no one would envy. Perhaps you have vulnerabilities that, if unchecked, could make your life miserable. Most people have an inkling of how their life could spiral downwards if they let it. Take a moment now to think about what your life might look like if you lacked the strength to define or pursue your goals, if you let your bad habits spiral out of control, or if you ended up unhappy, drowning in resentment and bitterness.
Imagine what could happen in three to five years if you failed to adhere to the path you know you want to follow. Let your imagination run wild. Think about your personal hell, where you betray yourself, filled with anxieties and pain. Consider those who chronically deceive themselves and others, allowing cynicism and anger to dominate their lives. Where would you absolutely not want to be?
Think about people you know who've made poor decisions, or remained indecisive, or who chronically deceive themselves or others, or who let cynicism and anger dominate their lives. Where don't you want to be? Dream as you write, and don't stop. Write for at least 15 minutes. Allow yourself to paint as clear a picture as possible of the undesirable future.
Ideal Future: Preliminary Notes and Thoughts Completed
Congratulations! You've analyzed your ideal future and identified the future best avoided.
Try to create a summary or reminder of the work you've done. Many find it helpful to craft a concise, easily readable table, which can either be saved as a separate document or printed for personal use.
This summary will assist you in the next stages. Keep it in sight.
Part Two: Refining Your Goals
At this juncture, you'll first identify and christen your overarching blueprint for the future. Following that, you'll dissect your broad plans for an ideal future and distill them into more tangible goals. Each of these individual goals will also be given its unique moniker. This step is designed to help you crystallize your aspirations.
2.1. Naming Your Prime Objective (Your Path)
Attempt to christen your ideal future. It can be straightforward, like "My Ideal Future", or it can be more personal and symbolic. Regardless, ensure that the title is uniquely tailored to you, pointing distinctly to your envisioned future. Imagine this title as a beacon, encapsulating and illuminating your ambitions. It will also serve as a gentle reminder of what you're striving towards. In the subsequent stages, you'll be defining, prioritizing, and dissecting specific goals.
Name of My Path: “ ”
In One Phrase: “ ”
2.2. Your Ideal Future in Eight Goals
Please segment your ideal future into eight distinct goals. If desired, for a concise articulation of your goals, you can rephrase, rewrite, or reorder the relevant content from Part One, or you can rely on your recollection.
These specific goals can span a myriad of domains. A personal goal might be, "I wish to lead a healthier life." A career-oriented goal might state, "I yearn to be more engaged in my profession." For a social objective, "I aspire to meet more intriguing individuals" might be apt. The description you assign to each goal should be succinct and memorable. Ensure that each goal's description encapsulates only the most pivotal information.
To enhance the effectiveness of your goal-setting, consider adhering to the S.M.A.R.T. principles, which emphasize making goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This approach ensures clarity, feasibility, and accountability in your objectives. For a deeper understanding of the S.M.A.R.T. criteria, you can refer to this resource.
You have a window of 10-15 minutes for this segment of the exercise. Feel free to revisit and refine the content as you progress.
For each of your goals, ponder upon the following questions:
• Is this goal genuinely significant to you?
• Would you feel guilt, shame, or anxiety if you didn't pursue it?
• Is this goal a personal desire, or are you pursuing it to please someone else?
• Are you chasing this goal because your current circumstances seem to demand it?
• Is the journey to achieve this goal invigorating, filling you with vigor and confidence?
• Does this goal resonate with a deeply personal dream of yours?
2.3. The Bigger Picture
Goals can ripple beyond the obvious. Our specific personal objectives are intertwined with grander, more profound life goals. These higher-order goals mirror our most cherished ideals. For instance, a specific goal to spend more time studying or reading is a facet of the broader goal of becoming an educated individual. Achieving other specific goals, like boosting self-confidence, nudges us closer to our "ideal self." Reflect on the broader aspects of your life that might be impacted by achieving your set goals. The questions below might guide your introspection:
How will discipline and success reshape your self-image?
How will your personal life evolve as a result?
How will others' perception of you change?
How will achieving your goals influence the lives of those around you?
Will your accomplishments have a positive impact on society and its overall well-being?
Can you briefly describe other facets of your life and those around you that might undergo transformations as you achieve your goals?
2.4. Identifying Potential Roadblocks and Solutions
Undoubtedly, envisioning a goal is far simpler than taking the steps towards its realization. Numerous factors, from societal constraints to personal limitations, can obstruct your path. It's beneficial to anticipate these challenges, equipping yourself with strategies to surmount them. Revisit your goals.
List all potential obstacles you might encounter:
Consider how you might overcome these challenges:
How might you inadvertently sabotage your own plans?
How can you preempt these setbacks?
Sometimes, changes in our lives can unsettle those we know and love. What should you bear in mind in such situations?
Will those close to you assist or hinder your progress? How can you communicate with them to ensure their unwavering support?
Contemplate the (realistic) worst-case scenarios. What are your options?
What are your backup plans?
Document the primary potential challenges on your journey and specify methods to overcome them.
2.5. Monitoring Progress Towards Desired Goals
It's crucial to discern whether we're making headway towards our set goals. Naturally, this isn't always straightforward. When our objectives are specific and short-term, tracking progress is relatively simple. However, for longer-term goals, the task becomes a tad more intricate. Now, try to establish personal benchmarks that will allow you to gauge your progress.
By when do you wish to achieve your set goals? Be as specific as possible with deadlines. Even if you need to adjust them later, it's better to set them now.
What milestones or accomplishments will you consider as evidence of progress towards your stated goal?
How often do you plan to review your progress?
How will your life situation change once you're satisfied with your progress?
How can you ensure you're not overly demanding of yourself, setting impossibly high standards and setting yourself up for inevitable failures, yet also not being too lenient, fearing to step out of your comfort zone?
Your benchmarks should be personal indicators of success. It doesn't matter how others might define progress towards your goals. Ensure that the milestones you've noted truly indicate positive movement from your end. Specify as many milestones/criteria as you deem necessary. Document how you can specifically track your successes in achieving goals.
2.5. Steps into the Future
Often, individuals unnecessarily immerse themselves in unproductive worry, perpetually revisiting their goals instead of focusing on their attainment. Constantly doubting every goal and intention can easily sabotage one's growth. Is this the right step? Have I chosen the correct goals? Continuous revisions lead to chronic anxiety, unproductive behavior, and a lack of learning opportunities. Now that you've outlined your goals, try to focus on the daily or weekly implementation of the planned course, rather than fretting about the goals themselves. Following the plan is as crucial as its formulation.
By realizing your goals, even if they aren't perfect, you'll acquire enough skills and knowledge to formulate and achieve even better ones next time. Repeating this process will make you wiser with each iteration. Allocate some time (weekly or bi-weekly) - no more than ten to twenty minutes - to mentally review your work. You'll gather invaluable information that you can use later to revisit your future plans. Researchers have found that if someone repeatedly engages in goal-setting tasks over an extended period, the likelihood of success increases, along with improvements in health, various objective performance indicators, and overall quality of life. Thus, the steps you've taken are a significant investment in your future.
Best wishes on your journey!
Alexander Lebedev, 2019