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

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

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Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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