Your Future Self

In my work as a life coach, I hear people talk about procrastination. I'm sympathetic because on occasion I suffer from it myself (full transparency: I am finishing this post just an hour before it is supposed to "drop").

The "what" of procrastination is rather simple. You, now, would rather put off doing something that needs to be done.

The "why" is more complicated. You might be distracted, disorganized, prone to laziness, don't like delaying some gratification, want to avoid perceived pain, etc.

One solution is to have your future self speak to your present self. If your goals are to exercise, lose weight, read more, avoid binge-watching TV, begin mindfulness, etc. ask: if that is what I sincerely need and want, what can I do to make that EASIER now?

That's the key. Make it easier. Break the goal down into doable tasks and create realistic but motivated benchmarks.

Let's look at eating for an example.

There’s a conflict that often happens when we try to be disciplined about something: I want this pizza right now, but I know I’ll regret it later.

Which interest should win out: your future self, who doesn’t want you to consume too many carbs and sugars … or your present self, who doesn’t care so much about nutrition and just wants to devour something delicious?

Notice how both answers are okay. You should be careful with your diet but you also deserve food that tastes good. What happens is that the present self usually wins, because it controls the action and so its interests are more important. But the future self truly has a stronger case as it is composed of a bunch of future selves (you in 10 minutes from now, you an hour/day/year from now). So shouldn’t a thousand future selves outweigh the current self’s interest?

Here's a simple method I've modified for finding discipline across the board: for diet, exercise, mindfulness, necessary desk work, etc. It's done by merging the two interests of the future and present selves. I call it Pointed Discipline.

Look at three movements (I've edited this from Leo Babauta):

  1. First, consider future you. Take a few seconds to consider what future you would want. In the case of pizza, your future self would prefer that you not take a bite! It will only contribute to weight concern perhaps and make your health worse with little benefit. You know this because your present self can look back on similar choices in the past — and you can see that you wish you hadn’t eaten five pieces of pie. Future self will have similar feelings about what you do right now.

  2. Second, consider present you. The interests of your present self might seem obvious — you want to eat a slice of pepperoni pizza! However, present self has other interests. For example: present self would like to be healthy and fit, and perhaps present self would also like to learn, be mindful, grateful, successful, and more. The taste of the wedged wonder is just one appeal of many.

  3. Now merge your interests. If future and present you were two friends with different interests, how could they make it work? One idea is to take turns — present self eats the slice this time, future self gets the salad next time. After all, why should just one of you get the choice all the time? It would be no fun if you only ate vegetables, but it would not be healthy if you only ate loaded carbs.

You can savor many things in the present moment and your present self can enjoy them fully. Your future self will be thrilled.