Lately, I’ve been curious about why human beings are compelled to drop commitments they make to themselves and give in to comfort so easily.
Mostly, I’ve been observing myself.
Especially when I make mindless decisions like sleeping in when I really mean to be getting up and exercising, or scrolling through social media when I mean to be writing. At that moment, I just want to do what is more comfortable or doesn’t take too much effort.
I get that we all do this from time to time. It’s our default mode. But for all of us, too many times of caving into comfort can set us back on our bigger, overarching goals. That’s why it’s essential to borrow from our Future Self what we need to get things done today.
My Future Self is the person I aim to be—the one who doesn’t make mindless decisions and stays committed to her goals, no matter how small they are.
I decided that I’d explore noticing my relationship with her.
I experimented with myself, and I noticed something really interesting… I noticed that I tend to think of my Self now and my Self in the future as two separate people.
My current Self is mostly on task but gives in to comfort or safety— like sleeping in instead of exercising or avoiding a task that seems hard. My present Self sometimes confuses structure with rigidity and integrity with rules.
My Future Self is a ninja. She takes action and doesn’t let us off the hook. She follows through on her commitments and is motivated by the reward she’ll have once she achieves what she wants.
She schedules time to rest, time for pleasure, and the mundane maintenance things of life. These are equally important as the essential, work-related tasks.
My Self now has little willpower. My Future Self has a lot more of it, but she rarely needs it because she has a great relationship with her word and calendar. What gets scheduled gets done. If she says she will do something, it will get done.
My Self now wishes to be more like my Future Self.
In this current view of myself, I am not yet my Future Self. I concluded that thinking about who I aim to be in the future is much like thinking about someone else and someone else’s future, which is not accessible to me now.
This is what made my experiment so interesting.
If I think of my Future Self as someone different than my present Self, how do I expect my present Self to not hit that snooze button tomorrow morning? Am I hoping that my future Self, who is committed to my health and fitness, will show up right on time and get me out of bed?
When I set my alarm clock as my present Self, am I just “hoping” that tomorrow morning will be one of the days that I will hopefully get myself to get up?
How does that work, I wondered?
I believe that we tend to think of our future Self in abstract rather than concrete terms. It’s hard to connect with the person we believe we will be when we can’t see evidence of her today. She’s like an abstract, dreamy, imaginary, fantasized version of ourselves.
Certainly, we can imagine ourselves with the fantastic body we’d like to have. What is harder to imagine is having the discipline to produce that result. Of course, the more we hit the snooze button, the more we prove ourselves right. This is why our progress is often stalled.
We don’t feel obligated to forgo comfort for that distant person in the future that we can’t see especially when our present Self just wants to sleep in.
It’s hard to give our future health benefits to someone with whom we share little connection.
It occurred to me that maybe we’d be more effective if we had a different relationship with our Future Self. Perhaps rather than forcing ourselves to believe in a future version of ourselves that seems ideal but unattainable, we think of our future Self as someone with whom we have a strong bond—kind of like a mother has with her unborn child.
A mother has a strong, loving, and committed relationship with her unborn child even though she doesn’t yet have a physical relationship with it. She can’t see the child; however, she cares for it and sees its potential.
If the mother had an urge to drink alcohol or smoke, she’d likely not answer that urge. Even though there is no concrete evidence of a baby, at least in physical form, she is still connected and bonded and knows that baby is still part of her. She is likely thinking and caring about that baby and its future health.
Present-day self-interest doesn’t allow for giving up now what will benefit our Future Self. But we’re not entirely powerless. We can have a bond with our Future Self, much like the mother with her unborn child. Every time we forgo our immediate need for comfort or safety, and delay gratification, we are becoming more like our Future Self.
So, give my experiment a try. Next time you’re compelled to hit the snooze button when you mean to get up, remember that bond. She will thank you later.🧡