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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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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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