As mentioned in the previous article, our experiential (present) self often dictates how we think and feel moment-to-moment. But we also have a future self which likely will view our present situation very differently. The future self also has different interests and goals, often in conflict with our present self. In a sense, many of our current world problems — even the biggies like climate change and species extinction — can be seen as a conflict between our present and future selves.
I regularly converse with my (perceived) future self, and through that, I have learned several important life lessons.
Lessons & Reminders from my Future Self
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
My future self tells me that most of the “stuff” I deal with on a day-to-day basis is really “small stuff”. The vast majority of everyday worries, stresses, anxieties and emotional turmoil are not worth my time/energy because they simply won’t matter in a few years, or even a few months.
Busy does not equal productive.
Being busy feels like you’re actively accomplishing things in the moment. But my future self reminds me that it’s worthwhile to pause and consider whether I’m wasting time on distractions or whether I’m actually moving closer to my goals.
Life is not just a checklist of acquisitions or achievements.
Most people spend their entire lives collecting and caring about possessions and achievements. But my future self reminds me that in the end, these things are likely to become meaningless, disregarded, and forgotten.
Instead of a checklist, life is more like an economy.
My future self reminds me that nobody, I repeat, Nobody can just “have it all”. In the real world, there are trade-offs. Everything must be traded for something else. Time and attention spent doing one thing means I have less time and attention for another thing. So I must continuously evaluate what I’m willing to trade based on what I value. And my future self reminds me to value the big things (see #10).
Time together does not necessarily mean quality time together.
My future self values meaningful time spent with others. It does not put much value on the quantity of time, especially when a lot of that time is spent staring at our own respective screens. Instead, it puts value on the quality of time, the shared moments of joy, laughter, and even hardship.
It takes a lot to build something, yet only a little to destroy it.
Things like health, well-being, and relationships are built brick by brick, and over a long period of time. Despite this, it is far easier to build something than to put it back together piece by piece, after it has been destroyed. My future self reminds me to avoid undoing years of “building” in exchange for a moment of indulgence or self-righteousness.
The devil you know is not as scary as the one you don’t know.
While I try to save for emergencies, my future self tells me that life will blindside me regardless. I can’t know or predict everything, and nobody at the end of their life ever said, “My life went exactly as planned.”
All (good) things come to an end.
My future self reminds me to be thankful for the things, experiences, and abilities I have at the present moment. But reminds me that all things eventually deteriorate. All things (including me) eventually expire or are forgotten. So it is best not to take anything for granted, and to use and enjoy these “gifts” I have now as much as I can.
When you look back on things, they will appear rosier.
My future self reminds me not to ruminate too much on bad/stressful things that are happening or have just happened. In due time, my mind will remember things as being rosier than they actually were (compared to when I was experiencing them). Don’t believe me? Just read any past diary entry where you felt like it was the end of the world.
Time spent on the following is never time wasted:
Aside from having basic survival needs, time spent on relationships, health, well-being, laughter, connection, and self-discovery is never time wasted. (Personally, I would also add time spent being in nature and playing with puppies to that list.) Memories of these times will be what carries you through the degradation and hardships of life.
My future self primes me for long-term thinking. It puts enough distance between my situation and me, so that I can avoid getting caught up in the day-to-day distractions. Doing something that feels good at the moment — from splurging and indulging in something to telling off your boss — may sound like a good option right now, but not in the long-run. The intensity and duration of regret might outweigh the highs and moments of sheer ecstasy.
On the flipside, the current drudgery you might feel from your exercise regimen, academic studies, or the attempt at mastering a skill, might result in a worthwhile and lasting improvement, according to your future self.
Your future self will most likely have a different set of lessons and reminders. What is important is that you take the time to understand your future self because it holds the key to your long-term happiness.
So for those who say “live in the moment”, I say “don’t forget to also live in the future”.