The Guide to Pragmatic Prospection

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BetterUp Studios

10 min

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What is Prospection?

Prospection involves thinking about the future, and pragmatic prospection refers specifically to thinking about the future in a way that will guide behavior and thereby influence the future. It not only involves thinking about future possibilities but also addresses the practicalities of what it will take to make those possibilities happen, to bring them to life.

It’s not about predicting the future as much as it is about influencing it, and that involves thinking about the behaviors that are required right now so as to achieve desired outcomes in the future. Here we focus on pragmatic prospection and will be using the terms ‘pragmatic prospection’ and ‘prospection’ interchangeably. Pragmatic prospection functions to help us understand what different possibilities are available to us, what is at stake, and what we are able to do about it (Baumeister, Maranges, & Sjastad (in press.)) In order for prospection to be pragmatic, two essential stages need to occur.

The first stage involves imagining a clear vision of a desired future state. The second stage of prospection is more pragmatic and involves carefully planning how to turn your vision into reality.

The second stage tends to focus on identifying the necessary behaviors and steps for achieving the ideal future state, as well as on anticipating and planning for potential obstacles, contingencies and pitfalls.

More simply put, the two stages can be outlined as follows:

  • Stage 1: Envisioning new possibilities
  • Stage 2: Turning those possibilities into realities

Why does it matter (according to the research)?

Prospection is important because it is only through deliberately imagining a future that is different than the present that we can make those possibilities happen.

Importantly, research has shown that being able to consider new possibilities for one’s future leads to greater growth, wellbeing, and goal attainment. It can even help people bounce back from hardship and loss (Roepke et al, 2017).

As BetterUp CEO Alexi Robichaux puts it:

“The richer visions of the future we construct, the more possibilities for success we can clearly visualize and, consequently, achieve both as individuals and organizations.”

What does prospection look like in my life?

You’ve undoubtedly performed prospection many times in your life, though you may be less familiar with assigning this label to your activities. But any time you think about the future or make some sort of plan, you’re doing prospection!

Since most activities do entail some forethought and planning, you’re likely doing prospection A LOT!

Here are some examples of activities that can be considered prospective:

  • Making plans, including weekend plans, grocery shopping or plans to travel somewhere
  • Thinking about and applying to college, graduate school, or training programs
  • Thinking about your career, marriage prospects, or future path more generally
  • Thinking about short-term or long-term goals you might want to accomplish

What does it look like when I am strong in prospection?

  • I spend time thinking about and planning how to achieve different possibilities for my future.
  • I have a clear sense of my goals
  • The goals I put my energy towards align with my core values

What does it look like when prospection is a growth area?

  • I “Carpe Diem” and pay little mind to the future
  • When I think about the future, I feel overwhelmed because I don’t know how to begin thinking about what I want
  • I know what I want but have no idea how to get there
  • I spend lot’s of time planning, but it feels like it’s for things that don’t really matter to me

How do I maximize it?

It’s important to remember that pragmatic prospection is a developable skill, and one we can almost all improve upon.

And it’s worth it. According to world-renowned psychologists like Martin Seligman, gains made in this area can benefit almost any dimension of your life.

Below are some of the ways you can maximize this skill throughout your BetterUp journey, and beyond:

  • Practice visioning by deliberately spending time thinking about different possibilities for your future and what it would take to get there. While all of us use prospection, practicing this skill in a focused manner is unique. One example of this is to ask questions such as, “Who do I want to be in 1 year? 5 years? 10?”
  • Lean on your coach to engage in practices, activities, and new ways of thinking about your best possible future. The one you really want, not the one you think you should want.
  • Strategize to attain your goals. This sounds obvious, but visualizing the steps and behaviors you need to make any goal happen is a skill in itself. Try and anticipate any potential obstacles that might arise along the way, and see whether you can plan and problem-solve for them in advance.
  • Let your emotions guide you. Prospection involves using our emotions as guides for the purposes of creating better futures. What do your strong emotional experiences tell you about how you can best reach your goals?
  • Learn from your past. While prospection is forward-looking, it still involves digesting the past in a way that allows us to learn from it. What has experience taught you that will allow you to create a better future?
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The best way to predict your future is to create it.
- Abraham Lincoln
BetterUp Studios
BetterUp Studios creates and curates research-backed content, activities, and tools to help people everywhere pursue their lives with greater clarity, purpose, and passion.

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