Remember or Imagine

When I volunteered at an assisted living home during my college years, I noticed that the senior citizens I visited with could be classified more or less into two groups: those who were nostalgic and spoke almost exclusively of the past and those who were looking ahead. The first group seemed sadder as they remembered people who were long gone, places they wished they had visited or things they could no longer do. The second group by and large were friendlier and happier, expressing enthusiasm about the world, the next meal, a relative coming to visit or even the weather.


In 1971, Carly Simon sang "We can never know about the days to come/But we think about them anyway"(from Anticipation).


To be sure, no one can predict the future (even meteorologists have a tough time). But tomorrow can be crafted by what you plan to do with it. Sounds too simple and basic? And yet the truth is that many people let things happen to them. Why?


As Brian Clark explains, when we think about who we are in the present, we're really thinking about the past:


Our memories of the past, whether good or bad, dominate our brains.
Of course, we know the past is gone and so is the person who experienced that past. The reason why true change is so hard is because even though we logically know the past doesn't control our future, we stay mired in it anyway. Don't beat yourself up about it, because that's how our brains are wired. 

When you force yourself to imagine instead of defaulting to remembering you shift your identity to the type of person you want to be. Here are the steps:

  1. Accept the good, important work of creating your future self now; be proactive

  2. Imagine the specifics: see yourself doing what you want to be doing

  3. Map out the steps that will allow you to get to where you want to be

Change is going to happen. Do you want to be acted upon by default or help to architect the future?


Ah yes, these are truly the good old days. And knowing that can change how you view your life now.