Tapping into your previous self

Déjà vu (already seen) is that strange feeling that in some way you have already experienced what is happening now. In a psychological slip-up our mind tricks us into our own version of time travel.

I had that kind of experience a couple of years ago but it differed from the normal way in which we think about déjà vu. I was in Edinburgh and walking past the family home where I had been brought up. The date and time of day corresponded to exactly a moment four decades earlier where I had walked out of the house on my last day at school.

I couldn’t help feeling that for that brief moment this younger version of myself and I shared exactly the same space.

There was something in that moment that connected with the research I’d been doing on ‘wise’ leadership, where wise leaders can make productive links between the past, present and the future.

Much of my work up until that time had concentrated on the relationship between the present and the future. Even more recently I’ve been looking at how the procrastinating ‘present’ self, borrows time from the ‘future’ self with all the negative consequences that come to those who leave things until the last moment.

The traditional idea of the relationship between our ‘present’ self and our ‘past’ self is one where the wiser more experienced version could offer advice to our younger selves.

Yet in those years since that experience of bumping into my ’past’ self I’ve had quite a number of conversations with leaders where they have productively tapped into that earlier version of themselves.

One of the unfortunate realities of having many years of experience behind us is that it can sometimes ‘take the edge’ off us. Not in a debilitating way but just enough to make us less positive and confident in our abilities than we might have been earlier in our careers.

Of course, that younger self wasn’t burdened by some of the responsibilities their older self is, but it is more the optimism and boldness that can provide such a useful reservoir for the future self.

The advantage of this approach is that the example isn’t provided by someone else, but by no less an individual than the person himself or herself.

“If we can’t learn from ourselves who can we learn from?”



We occupied the same space,

This morning, you and I,

Outside 19 Bellevue Place;

You leaving for school,

A full family behind,

And me, walking to work;

And here we meet,

Crossing each other’s paths,

Forty years apart,

That boy, and this man;

I recognise you, and

You catch my eye,

A fleeting recognition,

We both, you and I,

Time travelling;

“Remember me”, you say,

“Enjoy yourself”,

I whisper.