Future focused questions are some of the most powerful and transformational coaching questions you can ask. They invite the client to think about a preferred future and describe it in great detail. In a way, they help create a “memory of the future”, as we can only fill the story we are telling with experiences we have had. The details make the description rich — just as rich as a memory that has been shared often. Contrast the different stories we tell ourselves and others: the story about what we fear will automatically have many details. We are imagining, for example, failing in a test when we are afraid of it. We see ourselves sitting at the desk, blanking out, we see the empty paper and smell the classroom. The preferred future is usually much less detailed. We want to be successful. If we invite our clients to imagine the preferred future in similar detail as the feared one, we help them generate hope and make it possible for them to identify signs that are already pointing toward the preferred version. All in all a very helpful coaching move. Here are five ways that you might issue the invitation:
A traditional miracle question
The traditional miracle question goes somewhat like this: “Suppose after our conversation you do whatever you are going to do for the rest of the day. You go about your day and at some point in the evening you’ll become tired. You brush your teeth and go to sleep. As you are fast asleep, a miracle happens. And the miracle is that everything we have talked about or maybe have not even talked about is solved, just like this *fingersnap*. But because you are sleeping, you cannot know that the miracle has happened. What will be the first sign in the morning that will tell you: There must have been a miracle! What are you noticing? What would other people notice that would tell them that a miracle happend to you? How will they respond? How will you respond to their response?”
Becoming the person that you want to be
It is also possible to ask a preferred future question about the person the client wants to become. Let’s say the client was talking about becoming a “confident exam taker”. You might simply ask for a rich description using the client’s words: “Suppose you suddenly / magically turned into this confident exam taker, what would be the first sign that would tell you? What would you be noticing that would tell you that you are now this confident exam taker? Who else might notice? What would they be noticing? How would they respond? How would you respond?”
Entering the time warp
Ask the client about a good time in the future where they expect to have achieved what they want to achieve. Then simply ask about that time: “Suppose we stepped into a time machine and it was now that time, what would you notice that’s different? Who else might notice?”
Maybe the client is using a metaphor for what they would like to grow into. It is often really smooth if you can use this metaphor to ask a future focused question. Let’s say the client said that in the best case, the exam would feel like a light summer breeze. You could ask: “Suppose this light summer breeze was all around you as you are about to take your exam — what would be different?”
What the client values
Maybe the client is mentioning something that they really value. In our case, it might be “diligence and confidence”. You could invite the client to explore what is important about diligence and confidence. How they experience themselves when they are diligent and confident. What other people know about them that tells them that the client values diligence and confidence. And then you might ask: “Suppose you fully embodied diligence and confidence, how would you notice? What would other people notice?”
Of course, there are more versions — the question is always kind of the same :-).
If you want to discuss, please come and join us for one of our regular coaching meetups and exchanges:
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