Meet Your New Best Friend: 5 Ways You Can Work With Your Future Self to Create Better Results With Greater Ease.
If you’d rather listen than read, go to Sound Insight, Season 2, episode 13.
Red wine is not my friend. I love it; it hates me.
Here’s what I can look forward to after drinking just 6 to 8 ounces of red wine in an evening.
- A racing heartrate
- An inability to sleep
- Brain fog
The fix? No brainer. Stop drinking red wine. Did I mention, I LOVE red wine?
In truth, after a prolonged period of rinse, suffer and repeat, red wine and I are pleased to announce we have finally (mostly) broken up.
How did I do it? With the help of my new best friend. To break up with red wine, I first had to repair my relationship with my future self.
Are you unfair to your future self?
For many years, you could have accused me of future self abuse.
My present self gave no regard to the needs, aspirations, or well-being of my future self. Despite this, my future self continued to dream big dreams and set audacious goals. Then my present self would smash them like eggs against my future self’s car window.
Here’s how it would go between these two.
- When someone offered me a glass of red wine, my future self would whisper in my ear “We’ve decided to quit drinking red wine.” My present self would say out loud, “Let’s open a bottle!”
- When my future self suggested exercise, my present self turned on a baseball game, and said “Let’s watch other people exercise instead.”
- My future self said, “I think I’d feel better if I lost about 30 pounds.” My present self said, “No problem, right after I finish off this tray of chocolate chip cookies.”
After years of suffering the consequences of working against myself, it slowly dawned on me that I had a future self worthy of consideration and respect.
I had a choice. I could continue to engage my future self in a way that was exhausting, disrespectful, and toxic. Or I could build a relationship that was collaborative, compassionate, and supportive.
This shift in perspective was slow and subtle. The impact over time was powerful.
Since making friends with my future self, not only have I broken up with red wine, but I’ve introduced daily exercise into my routine and I lost that 30 pounds. Further the simple strategy of acknowledging I had a future self to consider and making her an ally, created benefits well beyond health and well-being.
Five ways to leverage the power of your future self.
1. Start a conversation.
Part of improving the relationship is understanding that there is one. Like any relationship, it is strengthened when you stop ignoring it and start listening. When you treat your future self as an ally instead of an enemy, you realize that your interests are aligned.
This strategy also created powerful benefits for my clients. When you step into the perspective of your future self, there is wisdom you can access that might not otherwise be available to you. Powerful ideas emerge. New and more creative options present themselves.
It might seem a little hokey to listen to your future self, but taking on the future self perspective can be a powerful motivator for behavior change. When you see your future self as a source of wisdom and guidance, it can point a way forward when you are stuck.
2. Pause and notice what is happening right now.
Ironically, the most powerful thing you can do to positively impact your future self is to stop ruminating over the future and turn your attention to what is happening right now.
When you think about it, your future emerges from moment-to-moment interactions between you and the conditions in your current environment. In other words, you are co-creating your future in every moment.
That may seem blindingly obvious, but if you train yourself to pause and pay close attention to what is happening right now in both your inner and your outer world, you have much more leverage over what happens next.
Let me offer a practical example. We’ll go back to the wine thing to illustrate.
Scenario One: Me, not pausing and noticing.
It’s been a stressful day. I’m tired and cranky. Now I have to cook dinner when all I want to do is sit on the sofa and veg. So, here’s the conversation I have with myself.
Cooking dinner will go so much better with a glass of red wine. I worked hard. I DESERVE a glass of red wine. And having a glass of red wine with a healthy meal is so much better for me than opening a bag of chips and sitting on the sofa.
So, I open a bottle.
That is guaranteed to deliver a couple of things to my future self. First, it will likely deliver more than one glass of red wine because now I’ve opened the bottle. It likely means I’ll have a couple of glasses tonight and a couple of glasses tomorrow night until the bottle is finished. That will result in a string of sleepless nights and the host of symptoms mentioned above. Finally, it will dump a bad next day on my future self – more exhaustion, brain fog, crankiness, and stress.
Scenario Two: Me, pausing and noticing.
It’s been a stressful day and I need to cook dinner. I feel an urge for a glass of red wine.
What’s going on here? What am I really feeling? I notice the rising urge for red wine and the desire to act on that urge. I also notice discomfort and the desire to blow past that discomfort. I check in with my future self. My future self shows me a video of the next 48 hours (see symptoms above).
Now I pay closer attention to the feeling of fatigue. Is it fatigue or lethargy? I look deeper and ask my body what it really needs. Surprisingly, I realize it needs to move. My future self shows me a video of sunshine and fresh air and feeling alive in nature. I put on my sneakers and take my body out for a walk. I come back energized, hungry, and ready to cook dinner.
Okay, so maybe scenario two doesn’t always happen. Maybe I pause and notice and give into the urge to open the bottle of wine. But then, maybe I pay more attention to what happens next. Maybe I’m able to connect the dots more vividly between giving into the urge and the bad outcome. Whatever happens, the act of pausing and paying attention brings a more rational brain onboard.
It gives me time to really understand the patterns that are not serving me and to make a different choice toward a different future.
3. When you are kind to your future self, life gets easier.
Ask yourself, “What little thing can I do right now to make things easier for my future self?”
This applies to everything from putting your dishes in the dishwasher right away before the food hardens on them, to mowing the lawn before it becomes a forest, to starting that report now before you slam up against the deadline.
It also applies to solving problems. Sometimes, when your present self tackles the little problems right away, your future self has fewer big ones to deal with. You are being kind to your future self when you intervene early to put out a small fire at work. When you clear up a misunderstanding immediately before it festers and damages a key relationship. Or when you book that health screening appointment to catch issues before they become life threatening.
I have learned to pay particular attention to the things I’m putting off. If I notice I’m procrastinating, I ask myself, what would my future self like me to do about this right now?
4. Delegate forward.
Despite everything above, there are some things better delegated to your future self.
I was having lunch with a young professional the other day who shared this story.
After a series of COVID lockdowns and months of working from home, he struggled to get back into the routine of going into the office. He would wake up on “in-office days” feeling exhausted and demotivated and then he’d call in sick. A mentor in his life suggested he make a new rule for himself. The rule was that no matter how tired and demotivated he felt, before he called in sick, he had to get up, showered, and dressed for work. If after all that he still felt too sick to go into work, he could give himself permission to call in. He told me that since making that rule, he hasn’t missed a day of work.
When your present self is too weak or compromised to make the right decision, delegate it to your future self.
This is also a good strategy for worry and rumination. Worry, especially worrying about things you can’t control or things that haven’t happened yet, is a great thing to delegate to your future self. For example, if worrying is keeping you from falling asleep, try visualizing handing the problem over to your future self and asking it to hold onto it ’til morning when you can actually do something about it. Or if you have something coming up that you are at risk of wasting time obsessing over, set a date to begin, and then hand it over to your future self.
5. Invest a little in your future self every day and experience the magic of compound benefits.
My yoga teacher likes to say, “a little goes a long way.”
A tiny investment every day in realizing the dreams of your future self can produce stunning results over time. Whether you are saving for your retirement, building lean muscle, or completing a dream project, a little investment every day compounds like interest in a savings account.
Perhaps the most profound change in my life that has resulted from this strategy is in my writing. It transformed me from a person who never seemed to have the time to write, to a person who writes an average of 80 – 100,000 words or the equivalent of a book length manuscript every year. But the thing is, because I write a little every day, I do it in a way that feels effortless.
When you invest a little each day, the cost to your present self is minimal, the payoff for your future self is massive.
If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains or tiny losses and see how your daily choices will compound ten or twenty years down the line. Are you spending less than you earn each month? Are you making it into the gym each week? Are you reading books and learning something new each day? Tiny battles like these are the ones that will define your future self.Clear, James. Atomic Habits (p. 18). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
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