The Big Happiness Interview: Pete Cohen on how to build a happier future

‘My mission is to inspire people to accomplish far more than they ever thought possible,’ says Pete Cohen, renowned coach and host of The Future Self podcast.

It’s interesting to hear Pete talk about how to create the future you want because I’ve been witness to Pete doing just that.

I first met Pete when I was health editor of a magazine in London nearly 30 years ago and Pete was a personal trainer with no profile but lots of enthusiasm.

Pete went on to become one of the world’s leading performance coaches, working with world-class athletes and sporting greats, such as Sally Gunnell, Ellen MacArthur, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Arsenal Football Club and Tim Henman.

He is now the author of 20 published books, several of which have been best-sellers across the world, including Shut the Duck Up, Habit Busting, Life DIY and Sort Your Life Out. He has also presented his own show on TV called The Coach and was the resident Life Coach on GMTV for 12 years.

Here, talks to Pete about how to create a happier future.

How do we create a happier future?

Many people are living a future they don’t actually want. They will end up in a place where they didn’t want to go and think ‘this isn’t what I wanted.’ I call it the default future, living a life that isn’t giving them fulfilment. They may be doing what they’ve always done or doing what is expected of them.

I was making a TV programme many years ago, where we spoke to people in hospices and I heard the phrase ‘my ladder was resting against the wrong wall.’

Start to create the future you want by asking – are you climbing the ladder to a future you actually want? Are you following a path that will bring you happiness? Is your ladder against the right wall?

What if you’re not on the right path?

Reinvent yourself. Challenge your fixed mindset. Challenge the idea that: ‘well, that’s just me. That’s my identity.’

Our personality is not fixed. Our personality is what we say yes to, it’s the story we tell ourselves. What if you tell yourself a new story about what is possible for you?

How do we loosen a grip on the beliefs that might keep us stuck in the past?

It’s very hard to move forwards if you haven’t dealt with the past. If someone has emotions that keep coming up, and they can’t make sense of where that emotion is coming from, they probably need some form of therapy. Because if you don’t, then we tend to keep telling ourselves the same story.

In order to go forwards, you may need to stop, look back and start to become aware of some stories you are telling yourself about your identity before you can make the decision to change them.

Rather than going through life mindlessly, get curious, and start to observe the experience of being you.

But it’s also learning to be curious and becoming more mindful of how you think and behave. There are many illusions and tricks that our minds play on us. Rather than going through life mindlessly, get curious, and start to observe the experience of being you. If you look back in your life, you realise you are very different to who you used to be.

Most of us have changed but was that a conscious decision to become the person that you are or have you unconsciously just stumbled through life reacting to what happened to you? What would happen if you become more conscious of the changes you want to create in your life? Asking good questions is key. It can save your life.

In what way?

13 years ago, my wife was given 18 months to live. I was working with a brilliant coach and he advised me to find people that had the same brain cancer as my wife who were still alive and find out why.

I was so lost in fear, I would never have thought of doing that that. We went to America, found a treatment that other survivors had used and my wife recovered. Then last year, the tumour came back and this time, much more aggressively. She was given six months to live.

I felt like giving up. But I had a chance meeting on a train with a doctor and he asked lots of questions and encouraged me to investigate two other possible treatments and she’s made the most miraculous recovery.

Where do you start to create a future that you want?

Start by creating a vision of a future that inspires and excites you. Unless you see a future that inspires you, it’s very hard to get fired up.

Know what you want. Everything we do is driven by how we see the future, but most people have never been encouraged to do that. If you can start to encourage yourself and get excited, inspired and enthusiastic about what might be possible for you, it changes everything.

How do you identify what you really want?

This is quite a morbid thing to think about but sooner or later this life will end. So begin with the end in mind. Imagine going to your own funeral and seeing yourself lying in a casket at the front of the room. Imagine you hear someone or a few people talking about your life. What was the legacy? Who did you become? What did you leave behind? What impact did you have? What sort of a person were you? Write your own eulogy.

Hell is coming to the end of your life and meeting the person that you could have become.

What I’ve observed is that when people do this, they think: ‘I’m not done yet’. It reminds them of what’s really important. This exercise teaches us that what’s important isn’t letters after your name and how much money you had, it’s about how loving, how kind, how considerate, how much you contributed to people’s lives. I think that’s a good place to start.

It’s a cliche, but it is the simple things, which make the biggest difference. Ask yourself – how can you be a good, kind, loving human being ?

What’s the best way to handle your inner critic?

You can listen to the voice of your inner critic but I like to wake people up to the possibility of listening to another voice, an inner guide, your future self who tells you a new and different story about all that’s good about you and what’s possible.

Ask yourself – who are you going to listen to? Who do you want to be guided by? Hell is coming to the end of your life and meeting the person that you could have become.

How do you get in touch with your future self?

You can try this visualisation exercise. Imagine you’re meeting yourself in the future. What would you ask your future self? What would your future self say to you if you sat down and had a conversation? Dedicate yourself to building a relationship with that future version of you.

What could you do today that your future self will be proud of you for doing? What does your future self suggest you stop doing? How can you commit to creating the best relationship with your future self?

How can we make good decisions so we create a future that we want?

Recognise that there is a space in between the thought and the action. And that’s where your power lies. People massively underestimate those small micro moments where they could make a decision which could take their life in a completely different direction.

Recognise there’s always a space to do something differently. The easiest thing to do is to do what you’ve done before, the biggest challenge is to move your life in a different direction. Pause, ask your future self, what should I do in this moment?

It’s just taking some form of ownership and self-control of this situation that you’re in. Why not just try it today? One pause, one micro change and you’re on the path to creating the future you want.

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