Sometimes Homer Simpson, in spite of himself, would have a flash of insight. When Marge warned him that someday he’d regret not spending time with the children, Homer replied that “his future self would”, adding, “I don’t envy that guy.”
Dr. Timothy A. Pychyl, a specialist in procrastination and Director for the Centre for Initiatives in Education in Ottawa, might agree that Homer was on to something. Dr. Pychyl advises procrastinators to practice “time travel – projecting themselves into the future to imagine the good feelings they will have after finishing a task, or the bad ones they will have if they don’t.” This strategy can be sobering and powerful and can help us to make well-considered decisions about what to do and when to do it. Without these important predictions about the likely impact of our choices on our future selves, we are destined to be short-sighted and feeling-centered.
Making a transition from one activity to another is often uncomfortable and disruptive. It may require a burst of physical or mental energy that we just don’t feel like expending. I know all about this. Gregg almost always makes a transition faster than I do – I’ll still be sitting on the couch while he’s off to the next activity. It seems I only get up when I have no one left to talk to. (Now that I recognize this, I’m going to change it. I’ll see how long it takes for Gregg to notice;-)
I expect that my “future self” is going to be a big help. Either she will start spouting a prophesy of doom, which does not make for pleasant company on the couch, or she will lure me forward with images of success that carry more weight than the cushy comfort of the moment. In either case, her perspective will be worth listening to.
According to Alex Lickerman, MD., author of “The Undefeated Mind”, “We all want to live in a hedonic present, a present where everything is easy and we suffer no consequences for making whatever choices we want the moment we want to make them.” Lickerman suggests that we “imagine our future selves as separate people whose interests and desires matter to us, perhaps as members of our immediate family.” This is an insightful suggestion, given that research suggests we are more likely to feel concern for others than for ourselves.
Maybe we should name our future selves to make them more real to us – perhaps one name for the near-future-self, and one for the more distant. Okay, I’d like to introduce you to Sunyata, my soon-to-be self, and Desdemona, my distant-future self. I’m going to try to take care of them both very well. Unlike Homer, I want to envy them. I want to be them. I will be them. We’re a team, all representing different perspectives on my life. (I feel like I just made two new friends.)
So I encourage you to get to know your own personal team members and keep them reasonably happy. They’re looking out for you.
Linda Anderson Krech, LICSW, is Program Director of the ToDo Institute and has been a frequent contributor to Thirty Thousand Days. She is the author of Little Dreams: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting and has been teaching Japanese Psychology for over 20 years.