Convincing Your Future Self
By Spencer Greenberg
(Cross-posted at SpencerGreenberg.com)
You have control over yourself for the next eight seconds. Maybe even the next three minutes. Right now you can choose to go to the gym right now. Right now you can choose to start something difficult (but valuable) that you’ve been putting off for a long time. But right now you can’t choose to go to the gym tomorrow. You definitely can’t choose to quit your job a year from now. Because tomorrow if you don’t feel like it, you’re not going to go to the gym, regardless of what the you of today decided. And a year from now, who the hell knows what you’ll want to do. By that point, you may have given up on ever finding a job that you don’t hate. A year from now you may have forgotten the lessons that the you of now knows.
Sometimes it’s useful to model yourself in the future as a different person. This person is a great deal like you, to be sure, but it’s not you precisely. You can’t choose what this future person will do. This person’s goals and values may not quite be yours. And not just because the you of the future will (hopefully) be wiser, but also because the you of the future will be truly different.
There’s an old cliché: If you want to make sure that something gets done right, do it yourself. Well, your future self isn’t quite you. Your future self may not be as motivated as you are now. The you of the future may have lost your ambition, your sense of being able to make things better, or your excitement. That you may not even agree with you about what right means. So if you want to make sure something gets done right, do it right now. Don’t trust that stranger of the future.
You can’t make your future self do what you want, but you can give your future self suggestions. We all give ourselves future suggestions for tomorrow (with notes) or for next week (on our calendars), but too rarely do we give ourselves suggestions for months or years from now. And here’s a great way to do it:
FutureMe lets you send yourself an email in the future (anytime at least 30 days from now). You can even include a picture of what you look like now (pointing a finger, perhaps). It could be that you want to remind yourself next month about why it’s worth continuing your pet project, in case you start slacking. Or maybe you want to remind yourself in a year about your long-term goals, to help make sure you stay on track. Or maybe in 5 years you want to ping yourself with a recap of some of your core values, and why it’s so important to live by them.
Talk to your future stranger.