For some time now, I’ve had “Do something for future me” as one of my healthy habits, but I’m thinking of removing it as I end up completing it every day, which suggests that it’s become well enough embedded that I don’t need a reminder. I’ll try removing it for a while and see if I notice any ill effects.
Thinking about, and being kind to, my future self, has become a powerful motivational tool for me in some situations, but less so in others.
I have found it particularly useful for doing things like household chores. For example, one evening last week, I went out straight after work and came home pretty close to when I’d normally go to bed. I hadn’t prepared anything for breakfast the next day. I usually cook some eggs, meat and vegetables, and take them to work with me, so I have something filling and protein-packed to start me off on the right track. When I first got home, I thought “I can just leave it and cook something tomorrow morning”. But I knew that future me would get up in the morning and have no interest in cooking. So then I thought “I can leave it and buy something at the work canteen”. But then I thought about future me having to take 10 minutes to go to the canteen, in a different building, and then spend 15% of the weekly budget on something smaller and not as tasty and healthy aswhat I could make myself. So I ended up preparing breakfast before I went to bed. The next day, I got up a bit later than usual, and was so grateful to past me for sorting it out the night before.
I find this quite easy to put into practice for anything like that, where something will have to be done eventually, and I’ll never enjoy it. I mean, if I don’t do the laundry, I’ll get to a point where I have no clothes to wear, so it’s not a job that can be put off for longer than a couple of weeks. But I’m never going to feel like “Yay! I get to do laundry now!”. So it’s easy to rationalise that the job has to be done, and future me is not going to feel any more like it than I feel right now, and may in fact feel less like it
On the other hand, I find it pretty ineffective so far for things like exercising and eating healthily. Logically, I know that if I run today, I’ll have stronger muscles and bones, and better lung capacity in the future. If I avoid sugar today, I’ll have a lower body-fat percentage in the future. If I do yoga today, I’ll keep my joints flexible for longer. Writing about it now, I think there are two problems here:
- I don’t see any immediate benefit – things relating to health tend to have a long-term effect, so in the here and now if I go running today, I feel tired and sweaty in the here and now, future me has sore muscles tomorrow, and future-future me gets the benefits a year from now. I find it a lot harder to empathise with future-future me.
- There’s no clear, measurable cause and effect – if I do the laundry, there’s a tangible output. Do laundry today, have clean clothes to wear tomorow (or whenever they dry). Health benefits are not only intangible, they’re variable and fluctuating. It’s not uncommon to hear a dieting woman say that she and her husband have started a diet together, and are eating the same foods, but he’s lost 10lb and she’s lost 2lb. Or that’s she’s eaten less all week but has somehow put on weight. People doing Whole30 often say that their weight has stayed the same but their clothes fit much better. So there are lots of different ways to measure health changes, you can’t predict accurately which health changes will follow from what you’re doing, and you don’t know what or how much you’ll need to do to get the changes you want.
These factors combine to make it very difficult for me to connect health activities with my future self. I even find it difficult in the present moment to stop and think about the future when making a health choice. On the other hand, I experience a lot of regret around health. It’s very common for me to overeat and then think “I wish I hadn’t eaten that”, or to skip running and then think “I wish I’d run today”. Maybe rather than connecting activities with health benefits, I can connect them with emotions. For example, it’s Sunday morning, I want to go running at some point today. Perhaps it’s more effective to think about future me going to bed tonight and feeling proud about running, versus feeling disappointed and lazy. That means I can logically accept that benefits will come, but strip them from the choices around activities because it’s too hard to take them into account. On the other hand, my emotions are much more immediate, measurable and connected to what I do.
I’ll try it next month and see how it goes.