possible selves
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Possible Selves

Villiers Park’s Future Leaders Programme is based on a psychological theory called Possible Selves.

Possible Selves theory has been successfully applied across a number of areas, such as youth development, criminology and deliquency, education, public health, and careers development. At Villiers Park, we use it to shape how we work with young people to help them achieve their ambitions in our Future Leaders Programme.

What is Possible Selves?

Possible Selves is a theory that describes the relationship between self-concept, imagined future selves, motivation and behaviour. It was formulated by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius in 1986.

The idea is that people can imagine possible future selves: either positive ones, which might motivate us to take the action we need to achieve them, or negative ones, which we might want to avoid becoming.

The potential future selves that we can imagine are limited to those that we have the resources to conceptualise. They are shaped by:

  • our social and cultural context
  • what we can see around us
  • our own experience
  • the experience of the people who advise and help steer us
  • whether or not they are validated by people whose opinion we respect.

And when we have a possible future self in mind, the level of motivation to strive to become it, and the likelihood of taking the action needed to become it, are related to how detailed our imaginary future self is, how realistic and achievable it seems, and how much we can see how to become that future self.

How does Villiers Park use Possible Selves as a basis for Future Leaders?

In 2018, Neil Harrison described how Possible Selves theory could be used to develop effective activities to support young people with thinking about higher education.

He identified four points of intervention that are important in helping young people to create positive, detailed ideas of their future selves, and to understand how to become them. We use these as the basis for our Future Leaders Programme.

1. Support young people in developing a greater range of possible selves by presenting a range of new opportunities or options and/or helping them work through their own ideas in the context of their own life.

Relevant Villiers Park Activities: Coaching, Subject-Based Workshops, Higher Education and Employer Visits, Destination Support

2. Support young people in strengthening their belief that they can achieve their desired possible self by including them in activities that enable them to demonstrate their potential, experience success and their ability to be successful, and supporting them in thinking about how they can achieve their goals.

Relevant Villiers Park Activities: Leadership Challenge, Coaching, Skills-Based Workshops, Subject-Based Workshops, Higher Education and Employer Visits

3. Help young people to make their positive and negative possible selves more detailed by encouraging them to produce action plans or road maps showing how they can achieve or avoid their different possible selves. We Provide opportunities to ‘try on’ different selves, through experiences or activities such as work experience or university campus visits.

Relevant Villiers Park Activities: Coaching, Higher Education and Employer Visits, Skills-Based Workshops, Subject-Based Workshops.

4. Make desired options seem realistic or achievable by giving young people the chance to experience their options, through work experience, work shadowing or visits, and/or helping them plan their development.

Relevant Villiers Park Activities: Higher Education and Employer Visits, Leadership Challenge, Subject-Based Workshops, Skills-Based Workshops

How the Villiers Park Future Leaders Programme puts Possible Selves into action

Coaching/coaching culture

Every term includes two coaching sessions to plan and review development and reflect on progress so far. Students have the opportunity to access a term of enhanced coaching if they would like a more intensive programme of support.


  • supports Future Leaders with developing an elaborated and positive possible self
  • supports Future Leaders with working out a realistic and achievable possible self
  • encourages the validation of future self by a significant adult.


We introduce Future Leaders to the Possible Selves framework so that they can understand, be reflexive and have agency in the process of developing their possible selves and deciding on their own pathway to realise their ambitions.

Leadership challenge

The leadership challenge supports students to create, launch and lead an activity. As an intitiative, it:

  • enables Future Leaders to experience leadership on which they can draw to create a positive future self
  • supports Future Leaders with developing new skills
  • helps Future Leaders to learn how to achieve what they want, have a positive influence and experience success.

Residential courses (currently paused due to Covid-19)

Each Future Leader will attend a residential in Y10 and another in Y12. These include a focus on specific academic subject, development of relevant skills and support for higher education application. These courses:

  • use subject and skills focus to support development of a positive academic future self
  • make academic and future success seem realistic and achievable
  • help develop a clear pathway to future successful outcome
  • help build positive group member experiences.

Higher education and employment visits

Future Leaders have the opportunity to visit different universities and employers to get experience of potential future options.


  • give access to new experiences and new opportunities to develop material for potential new possible selves
  • provide an opportunity to experience and ‘try on’ different possible selves
  • contexualise post-18 destination as a step towards a longer term future self.

VP Award

Recognised by UCAS and universities, the VP Award supports and certifies the progress made by a Future Leader towards higher education, and evidences all the Future Leader attributes.

Development support

We support Future Leaders to develop a pathway to their desired possible future self, whether this is university, employment, or an apprenticeship.

Development support:

  • helps each Future Leader create a detailed roadmap to get to where they want to be
  • provides the skills and experience necessary to develop a realistic understanding of how to arrive at the planned possible self.

Skills-based workshops

A series of locally delivered workshops, making up a library of courses and activities and encouraging Future Leaders to take an active role in their own development and chose their own pathway, as we support them in developing an understanding of their skills, attributes and needs. Workshops might focus on the development of study skills, life skills, and university application support.

Participating in workshops:

  • develops subject and life skills to make a positive future self seem realistic and achievable
  • provides a pathway to get there provide positive experience of success and achievement.
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