You vs. Future You

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“You’ve likely made the mistake of thinking future-you will be a lot stronger than your present-you: that future you has unlimited self-control, doesn’t procrastinate, and has boundless energy for all tasks, regardless of how gruelling or boring they will be. ..future-you is also a lot more rested and relaxed than the tired, stressed out version of you that’s reading this..”[1]

It’s interesting how we imagine ourselves to be in the future. Somehow whatever is a problem right now, is magically resolved in the future. We’re more attractive, happier, productive, successful, etc. When we think about our future selves, we see only victory. This can be harmful for at least two reasons. One, we slack assuming that victory is certain or somehow it’ll all just ‘work out in the end.’ Two, it diminishes the value of our present-self and experiences.

I. Assuming Victory is Certain, We Slack

Recently, one of my friends has said a few times that they ‘wish they could get a glimpse of the future to know that everything is going to be ok.’ And I’ve been reflecting on this. I understand how frightening uncertainty can be. I’m currently dealing with quite a bit of uncertainty myself. But the future never unfolds the way you think it will. What if you were to glimpse the future and see that you will lose something or someone? Based on where you are right now, you may think ‘oh no, now nothing will be ok’ and maybe you cease working on your endeavors. Alternatively, if you see that you gain a lot of things, maybe you’ll stop working as hard because you’ve already seen that you had it in the future; so you’re just waiting to get from here to there. Even now, when you fast-forward your imagination past these days of struggle to the glorious future where everything is perfected – do you reflect on the choices you’ll have made? Or are you just waiting to miraculously become the future-you?

Perhaps getting a glimpse of the future would spur you to action. Though even this option seems limiting. Instead of living your life as though there are infinite possibilities for how it unfolds, you’ll become restricted to – and preoccupied with – two: that either what you saw will come to pass or that you must change it.

..Of course, this also depends on whether you believe the future is set in stone or dynamic. I believe life is like a choose-your-own-adventure book where each choice has a ripple effect on different aspects of your life, so a glimpse into the future today would differ from what you’d see in a future-glimpse tomorrow. It’s best to actively work to create what it is you hope to see.

“Nobody knows how things will turn out, that’s why they go ahead and play the game…You give it your all and sometimes amazing things happen, but it’s hardly ever what you expect.” ― Gennifer Choldenko

If you have 7min, I recommend you watch this Ted Talk by Dan Gilbert on the Psychology of Your Future Self. Standout quotes from the video:

“At every age, from 18 to 68 in our data set, people vastly underestimated how much change they would experience over the next 10 years. We call this the ‘End of History Illusion.'”

“..we overpay for the opportunity to indulge our current preferences because we overestimate [our current preferences’] stability.”

“Most of us can remember who we were 10 years ago, but we find it hard to imagine who we’re going to be, and then we mistakenly think that because it’s hard to imagine, it’s not likely to happen. ..when people say ‘I can’t imagine that,’ they’re usually talking about their own lack of imagination, and not about the unlikelihood of the event that they’re describing.”

It’s best to actively work to create what it is you hope to see.

II. Diminishing the Value of Our Present-Self and Experiences

Surprisingly, we don’t tend to identify our future-self as ..well, our self. “When we are asked to think about ourselves, certain parts of our brain light up. When we are asked to think about our future selves, different areas of our brain light up.”[2] There is a study which “..found that when we think of our future selves our brain activity is nearly identical to when we think of another person[.]”[3] Deep down, it seems that though we imagine our future-selves to be perfected versions of our current-selves, we classify them as a totally different person. How demoralizing to secretly believe that even a ‘better you’ is someone else! The ‘perfect’ future-self becomes one more comparative example you may feel you can’t live up to.

“We think about our future selves like different people. We often idealize them, expecting our future selves to do what our present selves cannot manage.” ― Kelly McGonigal

There is a healthier option: give yourself credit right now for what you’ve accomplished thus far. Celebrate this success. Then mark a future point on your calendar. Make plans for what you will do to reach another milestone by that date; visualizing the steps to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Begin to consciously identify that ideal upgraded version of you, as your self.

The venn-diagrams below are from research by Hal Hershfield and chart “future-self continuity,” which is how closely you identify with future-you. Looking at the venn-diagram sets; reflect on which set best represents your connection with your future-self. Is there any overlap between what present-you is doing and what future-you has done, in addition to the type of person you both are?

If your “future-self continuity” is low and you’re having trouble relating with future-you, there are some things you can do to increase it:

  • Visualize Your Future-Self. Research shows that imagining yourself in the future increases “future-self continuity.” The more vividly you imagine your future-self, the better.[4] Gilbert alluded to the power of visualization in limiting people’s belief in what’s possible. Though you’re able to ‘see’ future-you, you must actively and intentionally regard that vision as your future-self, otherwise, it’s counterproductive. 
  • Work Now on Future Accomplishments. Start working to achieve some of the things future-you has accomplished. My future-self is well-travelled and owns her own business. Despite not knowing yet all the logistics of where ..I’m packing up and moving abroad this year. I also launched this blog to help me lay the foundation for my future enterprise.
  • Scheduling-in the Future. Google has incorporated this into their employees’ routine: pick a day where you focus on long-term projects and endeavors that directly contribute to your future.[5]
  • eMail Your Future-Self. Once you know what it is you’re working on, designate a future date for the email you send to your future-self to arrive.[6] Write about how you feel now embarking on the goal and how you hope to feel by the time you receive your message.

..Hopefully, this post spurs you to action. The future is dynamic and informed by what we do in the present. We’ve learned that you will not identify/imagine your future-self as somebody else – the more you two have in common. So, start now. Don’t put off choices and actions, endlessly waiting for future-you. Become the change you want to see in yourself.

Become the change you want to see in yourself.

Notes:

[1, 3, 4, 6] http://alifeofproductivity.com/resolutions/chapter6/

[2] http://www.scienceofpeople.com/2015/12/the-science-of-willpower/

[5] http://www.thesimpledollar.com/making-a-future-self-friday/

Image from blueq.com via this post

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