I often think about self-development, chores, and saving money in terms of doing my “future self” a favor. My future self is me, after all. Procrastinating might feel right for my present self, but my future self will regret it; I will regret it.
This calculation has been working pretty well. In fact, the payoffs often outweigh the upfront costs by a huge margin. But why is this? Why is there often such a good return on investment when I do my future self a favor?
In the midst of doing a mundane chore – vacuuming my apartment – I had an epiphany that explained it all:
I am one. My future selves are many.
I realized that by vacuuming my apartment today (a 15 minute chore), I would benefit from having a cleaner apartment for several days. This week’s future selves would be grateful that I had done this little chore.
When I do something that’s going to help me in the future, my present self pays a cost in whatever time and energy is associated with doing the work. But the cost is paid only once, and I may benefit from it many times – or even continuously – for days, months, or years. So when I do something that’s going to help me in the future, I’m not doing my future self a favor; I’m doing my future selves a favor. And they’ll all appreciate it.
Here are some examples, ranging from the mundane to the life-changing.
If I exercise this morning, I’ll enjoy a 12-hour mood boost.1
If I choose to declutter my desk today, it will take a few minutes of my time, and then I’ll get to enjoy the superior serenity and focus that a tidy desk provides, continuously, for a day or two.
If I devote 10 minutes to meditating this morning, I’ll probably have a slightly better day. If I devote 10 minutes to meditating every morning, I’ll have a significantly better life.
It’s not always wise to avoid discomfort. Often, it’s better for our future selves to face it head-on. “We have to learn to be kind to ourselves. In the long run, avoiding unpleasantness is a very unkind thing to do to yourself.”2
By choosing to become sober, I suffered through a very difficult month, followed by several months of moderate difficulty. But I’ve regained my personal freedom, massively increased my self-efficacy, and I’ll be healthier and happier for the rest of my life.
When I’m struggling to make the right choice, I find it helpful to think about my future selves. It is out of self-love that I choose to be kind to them. They are me, after all.
So remember: You are one. Your future selves are many. Do them favors. You won’t regret it.
1 Sibold, Jeremy S. and Kathleen M. Berg. “Mood Enhancement Persists for up to 12 Hours following Aerobic Exercise: A Pilot Study.” Sage Journals. Volume: 111 issue: 2, page(s): 333-342. October 1, 2010. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/02.06.13.15.PMS.111.5.333-342?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&.
2 Gunaratana, Bhante. Mindfulness in Plain English. Wisdom Publications, 2011. Pg. 92.