Why do we make choices that we end up regretting? (Nope, you’re not the only one who does that!)
Why is it so hard to get ourselves to do the things we want ourselves to do?
Here’s a hint: It’s for the same reason that you say yes to that Zoom happy hour that doesn’t actually sound that fun.
Because these decisions affect future-you, not right-now-you.
And you haven’t come to terms with the fact that right-now-you, and future-you, don’t always want the same things.
It can help think of future-you, and right-now-you, as 2 different people.
Yes, at a high level, their goals are aligned. But only one of them is in charge. Only one of them can make the other one happy. One of them gets to make all the decisions.
Because you aren’t often thinking about future-you, future you rarely gets to have an influence on what right-now-you is deciding or doing, but future-you is the only one who has to shoulder the consequences. Or gets to reap the rewards.
Future-you is getting a raw deal.
Why Do We Value Now Over Later?
Psychologists call this phenomena “temporal discounting”. In short, we value something we can have right now, more than we value something we can have later. When offered $100 today, or $150 in a year, people consistently take the $100.
This is why we go out for a fancy dinner today, instead of saving that money for retirement.
It’s immediate gratification vs. delayed gratification. And it’s hard to combat.
Where else does this show up?
Let me give you a few examples:
- Right-now-you watches Netflix until 3am.
- Future-you wakes up bleary eyed, cranky and under-slept.
- Right-now-you is too tired to spend a few minutes planning for tomorrow.
- Future you starts the day in chaos and stress, not making much progress, despite working all day.
- Right-now-you is doesn’t feel like exercising (because, really, who does?).
- Future you is frustrated by your lack of resolve and willpower. Future-you wants to be healthy, but right-now-you doesn’t care.
Ok, so humans are terrible at delayed gratification. What can we do about it?
You can start by simply having the awareness that future-you and right-now-you are different. When you are making decisions about your time, simply start by thinking about whether right-now-you and future-you are aligned.
No judgement; just awareness.
Then, start experimenting with making decisions that prioritize future-you instead of right-now-you.
The next time you are feeling some friction, trying to get yourself to do something that you just don’t want to do, as yourself one question:
“What does future-me want me to do right now?”
How does this work in practice?
I’ll give you a couple of examples of how this shows up for me:
- I run. But not because I enjoy it. I run because it’s the best bang-for-your buck exercise for me. It’s free. It’s fast. And it does the job. I NEVER feel like going on a run. Ever. But I do it because future-me will be pleased that I did. I know that 1-hour-from-now me will feel good that I went on a run today; my literal body will feel good. And I know that 10-years-from-now-me will be happy that I’m still healthy.
- I transfer my notes daily from a notebook to my task system. Even though it’s the worst, most annoying thing I do all day. I am a paper note taker; it’s just how my brain works. But I know I need to get those action items and notes into my electronic task system. So every day, as I’m doing end of day planning, I make sure that anything relevant ends up in my electronic system. I hate doing this. I never want to do it. But I do it. I do it because tonight-me will feel at peace knowing that everything for work is wrapped up and I can relax guilt-free. I do it because tomorrow-me loves a clean slate.