Do you ever wish you could go back in time and talk to your ‘old self’? Or do you ever wish you could go back in time and be your old self, knowing everything that you know now?
We’re always caught in this mental loop — thinking about the past and ruminating in the future. But how often do we ever take the time to use those mental projections to our benefit?
Think of all the times you’ve reflected on past situations and apply that same logic right now. What are some of the lessons you can learn from your future self, right now? Make some guesses about the things your future self would like you to know so you can make better decisions in the present moment.
Here are some ideas to help you get started.
This is a lesson you can apply to the little petty annoyances in your life all the way to the major setbacks and obstacles you’ll face. Intuitively, you know this, but it’s so hard to grasp when you’re in the throws of whatever is going on in your life.
I look back at all the moments in my life that caused me stress and worry, things that don’t even register a blip on my radar right now. Even something as monumental as losing a seven-year relationship barely registers now when there was a point that it was all I could think about — wracked with worry about how I’d recover.
But, that’s the thing. You almost always recover. Studies have shown that people who go through catastrophic experiences like losing their ability to walk end up back at their base level of happiness eventually.
For the long term, I like to think of this quote from Marcus Aurelius:
“You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
For the short term, I like to think of this one:
“If it won’t matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes getting angry about it
I use them both to remind myself that all the feelings of anxiety and worry I feel in the present moment are inconsequential in the long run. Doesn’t cure me, but it definitely helps.
It’s crazy how quickly you adjust to growth. I’ve grown used to the life I live now, a life that was beyond my wildest dreams just a few years ago. And even though I’m aware of how much I’ve transformed over the past few years, I’m sure there’s going to be a future version of myself that would shock and surprise ‘current me.’
This is how personal growth works. Charlie Munger says it well:
Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts… Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day, at the end of the day – if you live long enough – most people get what they deserve.
You hit a fast spurt. You grow exponentially when the efforts of your actions start to compound. And it feels a lot like an investment account that grows with interest.
In the beginning, investing in yourself is just like investing a small amount of money, it barely moves the needle. It moves the needle so little that you’ll wonder why you’re even doing it sometimes.
Why try to grow a business when you barely have any customers? Why try to start writing when you have zero fans? What’s the point of pursuing any type of dream when you have no available evidence that it’ll work?
You start because you have nothing better to do. Why the hell not? Then, you don’t even worry about the ceiling. Just put in the effort for the sake of putting in the effort and watch the results unfold.
I never had some gigantic dream to start. I just kept hitting milestone after milestone until I realized that pretty much all my limitations were self-imposed.
There’s a great book called Stumbling on Happiness by the Psychologist Daniel Gilbert.
A quote from the author:
“We treat our future selves as though they were our children, spending most of the hours of most of our days constructing tomorrows that we hope will make them happy… But our temporal progeny are often thankless. We toil and sweat to give them just what we think they will like, and they quit their jobs, grow their hair, move to or from San Francisco, and wonder how we could ever have been stupid enough to think they’d like that. We fail to achieve the accolades and rewards that we consider crucial to their well-being, and they end up thanking God that things didn’t work out according to our shortsighted, misguided plan.”
You try to make your future self happy. But, the problem is, you can only use the knowledge of current you to make decisions for your future self. Your future self might have different tastes, beliefs, and interests.
You’re always going to be playing a bit of a guessing game and you’re never going to know for sure whether or not you’ve found your purpose. But that doesn’t matter. You don’t need to find your perfect purpose. Your purpose can evolve with you.
But you’re never going to find any level of purpose by sitting there and thinking about it. The jury is out. You find purpose through your actions. It unfolds as you stop taking a passive role in your life.
I’ve been writing for six years now. I’ll probably continue to write for the rest of my life, but I have a wandering eye now. I’m doing more teaching, more video, podcasts, investing, and other little business ventures.
I’m going to spend more time traveling, taking my foot off the breaks a bit, and enjoy life. I realized I didn’t need or want to be as wealthy as I previously thought. I’m working on contentment instead of always moving the goalposts.
For you, stop worrying about this idea that you’re going to “waste time” by pursuing the wrong path. You’re already doing nothing by staying stuck in the same spot.
I bet you sometimes feel cursed. You feel destined to make the same mistakes over and over again. You’ve labeled yourself to be a certain type of person and it keeps becoming your self-fulfilling prophecy.
I was the lazy kid with potential. Smart, but unfocused. Talented, but not diligent. I tried and quit so many little projects and schemes. I dropped out of school. Hell, I couldn’t even keep my apartment clean until my late 20’s.
I’m nothing like the person I was six years ago. I reinvented myself. Not even remotely the same. I’ve developed a level of persistence that my old self couldn’t even imagine.
How? I’m going to give you the simple and cliche self-improvement answer. I was tired of being me. “Me” wasn’t getting the results that the person I was deep down inside wanted. Sure, it felt comforting to have an identity and sense of self, but I just thought about the long-term implications of staying the same way and literally said to myself “screw it, I’m done.”
You can do the same. Then, you go through the phases. You try to brainwash yourself with positive thoughts. It doesn’t work terribly well but it gets enough of the job done to keep you going. Eventually, you rely more on habit and discipline than motivation and pumping yourself up. Next thing you know, your behaviors are automatic.
You can apply this method to any skill. That’s the crazy part. You can model and adapt almost any personality trait with relentless practice. You can go from disorganized to discipline, wallflower to charismatic, broke to wealthy, whatever it is that you want to do.
But, you have to let go of who you are. You have to die. That’s the hardest part.
That sense of finality you’re looking to achieve via your accomplishments is never going to come.
I thought that following all of my dreams would give me this sense that I crossed the finish line. Once I got what I wanted, the void would be filled. Instead, I had fleeting moments of euphoria that went away pretty quickly.
The moral of the story isn’t that chasing your dreams is a waste of time. It’s that your life is lived in the present moment and you can’t avoid that fact no matter what you do.
We’re all in a rush to a better future that’s just going to end up being another present moment. So, if we never enjoy the present moment at all, what’s the point of living?
I try to remind myself of that even now. I have more goals, more milestones, new projects, but adding one incremental notch isn’t going to fully scratch that itch, ever. So I try my best to stay focused on the process no matter what, even if my mind is prone to constantly thinking about the future.
Stop being in a rush. There is no finish line. There is just now. Stop chasing. Start embracing what’s happening right now because there’s never going to be this magical point where you get to rest and bask in the glory of your past. Life just keeps moving.
You have new problems. You have new things to worry about that will end up mattering little in the future, both ups and downs. You’ll continue to break through new ceilings and none of it will ‘matter’ but it’ll be fun.
I guess that’s the main lesson I’m trying to teach myself and trying to teach you. The over preoccupation with your future self isn’t going to help them. Instead, be mindful of that person. Keep them in the back of your mind while you work, live, and love in the present moment.