They’re better than you
My future self and I have a good thing going. I do things today because I know my future self will be disappointed if I don’t and I set up things for my future self to do because I know she can take it.
I both use my future self to get shit done right now and to make sure I still challenge myself continually.
In December, I signed my future self up to do a book talk in a famous London bookshop. Did I think I could do it? Hell no, sounded terrifying. But I didn’t have to do it. My future self did.
And she did do it.
And then I set her up for two more. One was just last week. A third is not far away. But that’s okay too, because my future self will look back on that talk five minutes after I’ve finished it and be super stoked.
And I like to make her happy.
Understand your motivations
Most of the time, my future self is also my incentive for running in the mornings. I don’t necessarily want to get out there when I could stay at home and put the kettle on again.
But I know that she’ll not only be really happy I did go, she’ll also be stronger and healthier. So I do it for her.
Gretchen Rubin lays out four motivational types in her book The Four Tendencies and I’m firmly in the Obliger category. This type, she explains, thrives on external motivations. That is, when someone asks you to do something or it’s expected of you, you’re motivated to do it.
Internal motivations, when you tell yourself you’ll do something, are less easy for an Obliger to follow through on. Unless, I’ve discovered, you see your future self as external.
There are really two tracks here;
- Do uncomfortable things now to please and improve your future self
- Make future self uncomfortable and trust they’ll rise to the challenge
They’re both sides of the same thing; delayed gratification. It’s not quite as straightforward as offering a marshmallow to a child now or saying that they can have two if they wait fifteen minutes. But the satisfaction that comes with challenging yourself and improving is a gratification. It is a reward.
I often build in more obvious rewards too with the challenges I set my future self. For instance, I take the day after each book talk off.
It’s not that I don’t work on these days, but I carve out those days to ensure that I don’t have to if I’m not up for it. If I want to spend the day hiking, reading or watching movies then I can — guilt free.
Challenging your future self vs. procrastinating
Setting your future self up for a challenge is not the same thing as procrastinating.
Procrastinating is just putting something off that you could do today. If there are no expectations or deadlines, you could put it off for the indefinite future. This is pretty common with fun but difficult things, like hobbies and sport — something I wrote about in depth in my article, ‘It’s Time You Got Started — Seriously’.
But setting your future self up for challenges isn’t the same thing. Because you’re not just pushing something back, you’re committing to it.
When you commit your future self to something, you’re trusting that you will do the necessary preparation required to follow through. That’s the deal.
That’s not to say you should sign up for things that you actively do not want to do if they don’t improve yourself or your position. If someone invites you to a party that you simply don’t want to go to, you’re not challenging your future self, you’re punishing them.
And that commitment will cause you unproductive stress. Whereas productive challenges might illicit stress, but it’s the stress of rising to a challenge, of stepping out of your comfort zone. And these things are necessary to your progress. Going to a party you don’t want to go to isn’t progress, it’s misplaced energy.
The comfort zone — that old chestnut
When we stay in our comfort zone, we cannot progress by definition. Everything within our comfort zones are where we already are and what we can already do. To continue there will ensure stagnation.
Obviously things outside our comfort zones are uncomfortable and so we shy away from them. But here’s the thing we have to remember; they are only uncomfortable at the beginning.
And this is where your future self appears again. Because when you challenge yourself to do something outside your comfort zone, you know that those things will be inside the comfort zone of your future self.
When you challenge yourself, you are paving the way for your future self to be a better version of who you are today. And your future self will thank you for it.
On the day of my first book talk, my heart rate was so high that my fitness tracker thought I did 8 hours of cardio workouts. I was sat down.
On the day of my second book talk, my heart rate was only elevated in the half hour before I stood up with that microphone. At my next one? Maybe it’ll hardly be elevated at all.
Doing talks isn’t quite in my comfort zone right now, but it’s a hell of a lot closer than it was a few months ago. And after the next one, it might be just inside.
So back in December when I agreed to the first, I was doing my future self a huge favour. If I’d have said no, the idea of doing a talk would still be petrifying to me today.
I am a more confident person today thanks to the actions of myself four months ago.
Respect your future self
We call ourselves names all the time. We fling our hands up in the air and say we must be stupid, or incompetent or a total failure.
We treat ourselves horrendously and in a way we’d never treat anyone else. But our future selves are not us today. So we don’t call them names. We don’t call them stupid or failures.
It’s a loophole in our destructive self-talk.
When you start supporting and challenging your future self — just like you’d support and challenge a friend because you know they can achieve something — you’ll start progressing.
Maybe that support means that you’ll go for a run today because you know it’ll help your future self out. Maybe it means signing yourself up to do something scary because you know your future self can rise to the challenge if supported and encouraged. Hell, maybe it just means calling that client right now because it’ll take a load off your future self this afternoon.
The present can improve the future
There’s a common phrase – ‘do yourself a favour.’
But we’re so tied to who we are right now that we can’t bring ourselves to do what we should. We’d never let a friend down, but we seem to think it’s fine to let ourselves down.
We can’t change who we are right this second. Who we are in the present is who we are. But the present is both fleeting and eternal and you have the power to make your future self stronger, smarter and more confident.
An hour ago I was wasting the day. I did some life admin this morning then got distracted and with the distraction came a few hours of doing naff all. I opened some documents and closed them again. I was almost ready to write the day off.
I was frustrated at my unproductive attitude. But then I remembered that it was just me in that moment. I had a choice. If I wrote this article, an article that I started a week ago, my future self would feel calm and satisfied.
And I wanted that for her. It would be so good for her.
I’d spent an hour first thing checking over a lengthy job application for a friend because I wanted to support him and help him get an incredible job. I needed no motivation to do it aside from the knowledge that he was my friend. And he was stoked when I sent it back over with a thumbs up.
And I wanted my future self to be stoked too. So I took one for the team. I stopped roaming aimlessly, stopped being inordinately interested in the dust on my skirting boards and sat down to write this piece.
And by the time you’re reading it, my future self will have turned into my present self and she won’t be frustrated. She will be calm and chilled and, dare I say it, even a bit inspired to support and encourage her future self.
What are you going to do today that will challenge and support your future self? Got any ideas? Got something scary you’d like to do but keep putting off? Now’s the time to sign yourself up for it. Because when the time comes, you will be able to rise to the challenge. Your future self is better than you are right now — trust them.