We all love immediate pleasure and delayed displeasure. Those two things are the basis for an incredible amount of our day-to-day decisions.
Leave the dishes in the sink for tomorrow? Binge watch Netflix after work instead of working on your book? Sleep in instead of going to the gym? All of these seemingly unrelated decisions are based on delaying difficult or uncomfortable outcomes and seeking immediate pleasurable outcomes.
What we often fail to realize is that every decision we make has consequences. And in these relatively mundane decisions, the person who gets stuck with the worst outcome is our future self.
We’re not just talking about robbing Peter to pay Paul. We’re talking about sticking ourselves with worse outcomes in the future because we’re more concerned about the pleasure we could experience today. If you want to lose weight, it’s probably because past you didn’t prioritize healthy eating and exercise. If you’re struggling in work or school, it may be because past you didn’t do the studying or work necessary to set you up for success.
Studies have shown that if we see a picture of an aged future self, we’ll make difference decisions. It’s because now we have a context for who we’re hurting with short term thinking.
There are a lot of tactics for connecting with your future self. Write future you a letter and tell him/her what you’re doing for them. Use an aging filter on one of your favorite photos and think about the person that comes out. If future you is 15 years older, what is their life like? Do they have a better job? Are they healthy? What about relationships? For just about any area you could ask your future self about, there’s a path that starts today.
When we prioritize immediate pleasure, we usually end up closing doors to our future self. But if present me does the unpleasant part, future me will have more and better choices. If I eat enough junk food and don’t exercise, I’m eventually going to have a hard time getting up from the couch. If I start exercising moderately today, I may have the choice to run a marathon or climb a mountain in the future. If I buy the expensive new thing today, I have a bauble for a short time. If I invest that money, I may be able to retire earlier.
There’s a whole host of benefits we can secure by biting the bullet on the unpleasant work. We just have to set our future selves up for the best life possible.