Carter Lowe Creator, entrepreneur, and self-care advocate
Reading time: 8 min

You are in the future

You always have more time, energy and will in the future than you have in the present. At least we feed ourselves with these fairy tales when we think about a wonderful future. To be successful in the future, you need to start doing something now!

I want to introduce you to two people with whom I'm sure you'll get along very well. The first one is you. You tend to languish, it is difficult for you to restrain your impulses, you do not like to play sports, work with documents and do laundry. The second is, uh, you too. For convenience, I'll call it You 2.0. You 2.0 has no problems with slowness because you 2.0 have inexhaustible energy for any task, no matter how boring or difficult it may be. You 2.0 is also remarkably self-controlled, able to resist potato chips, Home Shopping, and lewd sexual advances without flinching.

Who are these "you" and "you 2.0"? You are the person reading now, perhaps a little tired and irritated from lack of sleep, preoccupied with a dozen more things to do today. You 2.0 is the future you. No, not the one you magically turn into when you finish reading. The future you is the person you imagine when you are considering whether to clean the closet today or leave it to your future self. The future you will be much more happy to go to the gym than you are now.

The future you will order the healthiest dish on the fast food restaurant menu so that the real you can enjoy an artery-clogging burger that you should sign a formal waiver.

You always have more time, energy and will in the future than you have in the present. At least we feed ourselves with these tales when we think about the beautiful far away. The future you is devoid of anxiety, better able to endure pain than you are in the present, so it is you who in the future will get a colonoscopy. The future you is a much more organized and purposeful person, so it is quite logical that more difficult tasks fall to him.

This is one of the most curious but predictable human illusions: we think of ourselves in the future as completely different people. We often idealize them, expecting future us to do what we cannot do in the present. Sometimes we mistreat them, loading them with the consequences of our own current mistakes. Sometimes we just do not understand them: it does not reach us that they will think and feel the same as we do now. And no matter how we think about future us, we rarely see ourselves in them.

Princeton University psychologist Emily Pronin has shown that this illusion causes us to treat our future selves like strangers. In her experiments, students were asked to make a series of self-control decisions. Someone chose what they would do today, someone - tasks for the future. And individual participants determined what another student who was about to appear on the experiment would do. You may think that there is some kind of friendly agreement between the present and future selves, but it turns out that we are more inclined to keep our present selves out of all sorts of difficulties and overload future selves just like a stranger.

In one experiment, students were asked to drink a disgusting mixture of ketchup and soy sauce. The guys were asked how much of the drink they were ready to take on their chests in the name of science. The larger the volume, the greater the help to researchers—the perfect test of the power of "I will." Half of the participants were told to drink the mixture within a few minutes. Others that a date will be set for it next semester. Their real selves were off the hook, and their future selves had to choke on the slop. Other students chose how much the next participant would like to taste. What would you do? What would the future you do? What would you expect from a stranger?

If you are like everyone else, then your future self is more thirsty for knowledge (and soy sauce) than you are in the present. The students who were in charge of their future selves and the next participant prescribed twice as much disgusting liquid (almost half a cup) as they were ready to swallow in the present (two tablespoons). The guys showed the same bias when they were asked to make time for a good cause. They promised that their future selves would spend 85 minutes helping other students with their studies next semester. They were even more generous when they were in charge of "that guy" - and assigned a stranger 120 minutes of tutoring. But when asked about the current semester, they only had 27 free minutes. In a third study, students were asked to choose between a small amount of money now and a large amount later. For themselves in the present, they grabbed an instant reward. But they expected from themselves in the future - and from other students - more restraint.

There would be nothing wrong in such a high opinion of future us, if we really could rely on their worthy behavior. But more often than not, when we find ourselves in the future, the ideal "I" is nowhere to be found, and decisions again have to be made by ourselves. Even in the midst of a volitional conflict, we naively think that it will not touch the future self. The future self is pushed farther and farther into the future, as if it were meant to save us from the real us at the very last moment. We put off doing what needs to be done, waiting for someone to show up to do it effortlessly.

Under the microscope: are you looking forward to your future self?

Do you have something you need to change or do, but are postponing the task in the hope that a more willful future self will emerge? Or do you optimistically make commitments and then find yourself inundated with exorbitant demands? Are you talking yourself out of doing something today by promising you'll be in the mood to do it tomorrow?

Help yourself make wise decisions: send yourself into the future. Below you will find three ways to make the future more tangible and get to know your future self. Pick the one you like the most and give it a try this week.

1. "Remember" the future. Neuroscientists from the Eppendorf Hospital of the University of Hamburg (Germany) have proven that thinking about the future helps to delay pleasure. You don't even need to imagine the rewards of distant pleasures to come - just think about what will happen. For example, if you're trying to decide whether to start a project now or postpone it, imagine yourself at the grocery store next week or at a pre-scheduled meeting. When you picture the future for yourself, your brain is able to more accurately calculate the consequences of your current decisions. The more real and alive the future seems, the more likely you are to choose something that your future self will not regret.

2. Send a message to the future self. The founders of FutureMe.org came up with a way to communicate with future selves. Since 2003, the site has stored people's emails to themselves. Messages are sent to recipients when the specified deadline approaches. Take this opportunity and think about what your future self will do, what will it think about the decisions you are making now? Share with your future self what you are going to do to achieve your long-term goals. What are your hopes for the future? What do you want to become? Imagine that you are from the future looking at yourself in the present. What actions will the future self thank you for? Psychologist Hal Ersner-Herschfield says that even sketching out a writing plan for yourself will bring you closer to your future self.

3. Imagine your future self. Research shows that by imagining yourself in the future, you can strengthen willpower in the present. In one experiment, couch potatoes were asked to imagine either a positive future self that regularly plays sports and is in excellent health, or a negative self that is sedentary and suffers from various ailments. Both pictures lifted people off their sofas: two months later, they were doing more exercise than the control group, who had no such task. Can you imagine your positive future self in a will test: how committed is it to the goal and reaping the fruits of its labors? Or a future self that suffers the consequences of its inaction? Allow yourself to move in the clouds: imagine in the smallest detail how you will feel, how you will look, with what pride, gratitude or regret you will remember your past actions.

Based on the materials of Kelly McGonigal “Willpower. How to develop and strengthen”