28 Jul

Forsaking the Future Self

Why do we do it? We set goals, we make plans. We tell ourselves we will…this time.

But we don’t.

A while back, Julien Smith wisely pointed out (as is his wont) that three of us are present for any decision: there’s who we were, who we are, and who we are going to be. One begets another.

As I said to Julien then, each has a siren song: Past Self dwells in what could have been, Present Self dwells in the lush tactility of now, and Future Self sees all that could yet still be. Each has lessons: Past makes us what we are, Present sets who we’ll be, and Future reveals the paths from which we choose.

Future Self fascinates me. It holds so much promise, and yet we forsake it all the time—we do things today that pretty much screw over the person we’ll be tomorrow.

Why is that?

Perhaps because it’s so easy to dwell in the past. We know Past Self—it’s as old as we are, minus a day. It walks with us in everything we do, chats with us, tells us how this is or isn’t like what came before, how we have or haven’t succeeded by doing this or that. Perhaps it’s because some of us don’t like our Present Selves very much, and we can’t see the possibilities that Future Self provides, or at least, we can’t see anything but a continuation of who we are right now (and that’s more than we can bear).

Or maybe it’s just that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.

I mean, Future Self…we don’t even know that guy. He just sits out there, dealing in abstraction, putting pressure on Present Self, waiting to see what we’re going to do to him. Bastard.

As much as I love to ask “why?” (and trust me, I can be worse than a toddler on that front), the answers fall too often into the True But Useless category of information. What good is understanding “why” if it doesn’t actually move us to do something different? (Or worse, actually holds us back?)

Not much.

The problem is our success depends on our relationship with our Future Self—on someone we can’t know, and yet whose life we control absolutely.

So, how do we do that? How do you?