One of the real difficulties for my clients is that they are often trying to make a decision in the present time that their future self will be happy with. All my coaching clients don't feel 100% sure of what to choose. And some feel happy now ..... but they are aware that, because of their age, they need to make a decision now, because in 5 or 10 years they may not have the luxury of choice.
I recently saw a fantastic TED Talk by Dan Gilbert called the Psychology of Your Future Self which I think points to why the baby decision is so very difficult. AND, it shows to me the important role of coaching techniques that help clients imagine a different 'future self' (or wise self), that helps clients see how what they want or will be like in the future will inevitably change.
'At every stage of our lives we make decisions that will profoundly influence the lives of the people we're going to become, and then when we become those people, we're not always thrilled with the decisions we made. So young people pay good money to get tattoos removed that teenagers paid good money to get. Middle-aged people rushed to divorce people who young adults rushed to marry. Older adults work hard to lose what middle-aged adults worked hard to gain. On and on and on. The question is, as a psychologist, that fascinates me is, why do we make decisions that our future selves so often regret?'
Gilbert explains that we continually under-estimate how much we will change in the future. We see ourselves as finished, as everything we have experienced as contributing to our 'finished selves'. We somehow find ourselves unable to imagine how we might be different in the future - how our values might change, how our likes and dislikes might be different in 10 years - just as they were different 10 years prior.
I find it very fascinating because it supports some of the exercises I do with my clients. Many times in coaching, my clients feel stuck because they can't imagine what it might be like with a child in the future. Often they focus on feels of anxiety or worries of what they will lose from their current life. An example is freedom and independence. When we get to our 30's, we can feel like we've achieved a certain freedom and independence - we have ARRIVED! And having a child can feel like a threat to this. But what if our sense of freedom and independence was always in flux - what if it would change even without having children? OR what if we could expand our imagination to move past a feeling of worry that we might feel unfulfilled if we don't have children to imagine our future selves as living a full life but perhaps a different fulfilled life without children.
I use a creative visualisation that helps clients move past their rational minds to imagine what this future self might be like and might be enjoying from life. I think why this is so powerful is because it does what Dan Gilbert in his TED Talk says we find hard to do - it gets us to stretch our imagination.
Another exercise I use is to ask clients to reflect on their past and look at all the changes that have happened in the last 10 - 20 years. I ask them to think about key experiences in their lives where they have overcome challenging situations and what they have learnt about themselves. I then ask them to take everything they have learnt about themselves in the past and think about how they will take that learning into the future, to approach and deal with new challenges - whether they have children or not.
One thing is certain - whether you decide to have children or you don't, change is part of the experience of being human. You'll change whatever decision you make!