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Your Future Self Wants to Know What the Heck You Were Thinking!

Your Future Self Wants to Know What the Heck You Were Thinking!

Whenever I speak to my friends who have gotten tattoos, I am struck by their level of certainty that later, in the future, they will not regret the decision. For myself, I feel certain that I am not equipped to predict what taste my future self will have, and therefore, don’t feel empowered to make decisions for her. So, I have no tattoos.

This idea of considering the concerns of my future self is something I have been personally conscious of for most of my life. But I didn’t know that it was central in research being done to determine why some people procrastinate in doing the things that they, themselves, believe they should do. It turns out, that having a clear connection to and a distinct idea about your future self is strongly correlated to whether you procrastinate or not.

People who are not connected to their future self, procrastinate more

According to research psychologists Fuschia Sirois and Timothy Psychyl , when people have a lack of emotional connection to their future selves they have more difficulty in both making long-term, project-based plans and in fulfilling their goals. This “connection” can be demonstrated in fMRI scans of peoples’ brains.

When subjects are asked to consider themselves at some specific point in the future, scans of their brains show variation in what “lights up” as active part of the brain. In the brains of those with strong connections to themselves in the future, the areas of the brain that are active when thinking about themselves today are more or less the same as when they think about themselves in the future.

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But for some other subjects, when they think about their futures selves, they are so disconnected from the idea that their future self IS themselves that their brain looks the same as when it is thinking about a celebrity or a fictional character. This variation has been strongly correlated to procrastinating behavior.

It’s as though being disconnected in that way lets us off the hook for making choices today that will not bode well for our future selves. Said another way, when you are not looking out for your future self, you make bad decisions and saddle her with the consequences of today’s lack of conscientiousness.

The correlate of this research is just as you expect. People who feel a strong connection and responsibility for their future selves are less apt to procrastinate and more likely to consider the future impact of choices today. So if you procrastinate, you may want to spend some energy getting to know Future You – and establishing an emotional connection to her or him, in service of giving yourself strength in the “getting down to work” area.

How to connect to your future self

You may well ask how one establishes such a connection. Well, one good beginning is to actually think about how your procrastination will change your own circumstances and experiences tomorrow, next week or next month. In other words, project yourself into a sort of mental movie whose plot follows the natural chain of events starting with what you do right now. If we could craft a synopsis of your mental movie it might go like this:

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“I don’t pay the bill today. The bill sits on the pile of other unpaid bills. Tomorrow, when I go to pay the bill, since I also have all of tomorrow’s things to do, I don’t get around to paying the bill. Next week when I sit down to pay the bill it is part of a larger pile of bills that have now collected since I haven’t gotten around to paying bills. So I don’t pay the bill next week, because I have pressing bills to pay from last month.

Then in two weeks when I sit down to pay this bill, I notice I have missed the deadline and must now pay a late fee. So in two weeks, when I pay this bill, it is bigger by $25 and I have to find extra money to cover it. All of this because I am watching Game of Thrones now instead of just paying the bill. Maybe I should just pay the stupid bill now!”

When you take the 15 seconds to imagine a scenario like this and mentally picture yourself in the future – whether it’s a future one hour from now, one week or ten years – you build a connection to that self.

This actually changes the structure of your own cognition, and starts your neurons firing in different parts of your brain – the parts that see FUTURE YOU as a part of PRESENT YOU – the you that you know and protect from harm. That transformation will begin to generate a greater sense of urgency to do the things you may be procrastinating today.

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Think about Future You when making choices

Connecting to Future You can also change other choices you make in the present. For example, imagine you are working on losing weight and getting fit. Think of a moment in which you are faced with a choice of whether to eat something that is not on your current eating plan – a rich piece of beautiful, dark chocolate cake.

Pause for a second and picture yourself tomorrow. You are standing on the scale in the morning and looking down at the numbers. See your own feet in your mind standing with the scale’s digital LED between your toes. Now imagine the number. What number should be there, according to the plan? And what number might be there if you go off the eating plan? Now imagine that number.

How do you feel as you see a higher number? How do you feel about you – the you who chose to eat that piece of cake last night? Why did you do that to Future You? What were you thinking back then yesterday? Now, back in the present moment of choice, do you still want to eat that chocolate cake?

Future you can provide a standard against which to true yourself. That effect may be to give you strength, or saddle you with shame. You can choose. But if you foster a sense of connection, responsibility and ownership of Future You, you will have an extra tool for building what we often call willpower or discipline. Maybe willpower and self-discipline is really nothing more than a profound connection to yourself and your changing reality over time.

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Give it a try and see if it makes a difference. If it does, great! If not, then next week I’ll have a new tool for you to try out!

Featured photo credit: http://getrefe.tumblr.com/ via 67.media.tumblr.com

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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