Often our default is to think about making our lives easier now, to the detriment of our future selves. We find what is convenient now, and leave our future self to get things done. In the moment, putting off exercise, difficult work tasks, and household chores can feel really good!
But later that day or week, our future self is left to pick up the pieces and is usually pretty unhappy about it. So why is it so hard to learn from this?
The problem might be that we don’t actually think of our future self as the same person. A study in 2009 out of Stanford University found that when we think of the future us as well as other people, the same part of the brain is stimulated. What does this mean?
It means that our brains appear to literally contemplate our future self as if it’s someone else – a more motivated person who doesn’t mind taking care of all the things we don’t want to deal with right now.
So how do we stop this? How do we look after our future self knowing that this will eventually be us?
We might start by just taking on some of the little things right now – reverse into the carpark at work, save the easier tasks until the end of the work day, take out the garbage in the morning, send off that annoying email first thing, exercise in the morning, so you won’t feel guilty for missing it in the afternoon. Try and deal with things the minute they come into your head.
Ask yourself the question, “am I more or less likely to be able to do this later when I’m tired and worn out from today?” When we leave it all for our future self, they arrive at what seems like an endless amount of responsibilities that they must now swiftly and accurately surmount. This is often simply because the past “us” has missed smaller opportunities to reduce it. Even a few small things can make a difference.
And why not go above and beyond for future you? Pack your lunch for the next day, put out an outfit you’ll wear, put a little more in your savings so you can enjoy that future holiday. When you buy that block of dark chocolate, buy a second one for when future you has had a rough day. Because even though we might forget it, this will eventually be present you. So be kind to future you. Imagine all that they might be capable of if we give them a hand.
Wesley Macintyre (M Prof Psych, Adv Grad Dip Psych, BA Psych) is in the final year of his internship as a provisional psychologist. During his Masters, Wesley completed a placement in a private practice, providing psychotherapy to adults and young people experiencing wide ranging challenges and hurdles in seeking to live a fulfilled life. Wesley is passionate about providing evidence-based practises to help clients overcome these obstacles and restore their hope of living a healthier and happier life. Wesley has experience working with individuals experiencing depression, anxiety, social issues, and autism.