March 26, 2024

The Importance of Honoring Your Future Self

“That’s a problem for future me to figure out!” I had a friend who would say this. My friends and I would laugh, knowing we were all guilty of this as well. Taking actions now that create problems for ourselves down the line. Raking up a credit card bill, partaking in a night of too many margaritas or binge watching a show into the wee hours of the morning. Depending on the severity, we usually toss this dilemma off with a shrug, Eh, I’ll figure it out. Since becoming a psychotherapist, I’ve seen how often we neglect our future selves in both the near and distant future. However, it is considering and honoring our future selves that can be one of the best keys to happiness and good mental health. 

Why Our Future Self Matters

As a self-help nerd, I’ve read a lot on happiness. This helps my well-being but also my work with clients. From what I have gathered, the keys to happiness are often pretty simple stuff: good health, community, hobbies/interests, and positive relationships. All of those factors require long-term thinking and making decisions now that impact our future. Take friendships for example. Fostering long term friendships takes work. It means putting yourself out there, initiating plans with new or current friends and keeping in touch. That all requires present work to build connections that will last into the future. 

This goes for the daily choices we make as well. Sleep is a huge factor in physical and mental health. Getting enough sleep is the daily choice to go to bed early so that we will feel good tomorrow. That means forgoing Netflix or our phones in favor of catching some shuteye. The ripple effect of this choice serves not just ourselves tomorrow, but us years into the future if we continue to prioritize rest. Essentially, choosing to sacrifice temporary pleasure for long-term joy. 

This Goes for Ourselves in the Short Term

When we talk about our future selves, we usually think of years ahead or maybe just tomorrow. But honoring the future can also mean just an hour from now. Say you want to go for a run but you’re cozy on the couch. If you make the choice to go on that run, more than likely your future self will be grateful. You will be feeling the endorphin rush of that exercise, which leads to a happier mood and often healthier choices. One small choice has the power to turn around your day. 

There are constant moments like this throughout the day. Choosing to read a book instead of scrolling through social media for hours. Deciding to get coffee with that friend instead of canceling at the last minute. These choices leave us feeling better afterwards but too often we go for the in-the-moment comfort instead.  

So Why Do We End Up Screwing Our Future Selves?

If thinking about the future is so beneficial, why don’t we do it more? Why do we more often than not make choices that we end up hating ourselves for? 

The answer? Usually what is good for us and our well being is not something our brains get pumped up for. The Happiness Lab (a podcast I highly recommend) delved into this subject in their episode, “You Can’t Always Want What You Like.” Research has found that our brains do not salivate for a run or journaling the way it does for Netflix and ice cream. Even though the run or journaling will actually make us feel better, our brain will move us towards Netflix and ice cream because it feels better in the moment

If you struggle with making daily positive choices, take comfort in the fact that this is not your fault. The brain is literally designed to have us want pleasurable activities over healthy ones. You’re not lazy, you are just listening to your brain. 

How to Stop Screwing Your Future Self

Now, if the brain won’t help us out in this department, how can we start actually making positive choices? Start by practicing some mindfulness every day. Have frequent check-ins with yourself, asking how you are feeling in both your body and mind. No judgment, no shoulds, just be the observer of yourself. This will allow you to increase your awareness and be less surprised by any unhealthy choices you make. When the time comes to make a choice, ask yourself, “how will my future self feel about this decision?” Think both about the foreseeable future and future in the distance. Those new shoes may seem awesome right now, but perhaps your end of the month budget will feel differently. Maybe sitting on the couch feels cozier than going to your buddy’s party, but you may regret missing it. Ask yourself how this action affects you in the future. Often it can mean pushing through temporary pleasure and comfort.   

Remember, your future self is you. It is not a stranger you have no connection to. It’s you, maybe just a few minutes, weeks, or years from now. This can be one of the highest forms of self-love: to make choices now that your future self will appreciate. You are saying, “I love myself too much to not make this important decision.” Your future self may give you a big hug for it. 

Want More Help?

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You Can’t Always Want What You Like | The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

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