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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 November 15, 2019

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems, why?

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

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The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

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The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

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It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

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For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

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Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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