January 4, 2019

Future Me is highly organized, never stressed, always on time, and always prepared.

Future Me is...a little bit of a lie. Or, at least, let’s call her a fiction.

Because the truth is Present Me is a little disorganized, plagued with indecision, running from hither and thither, and often scrambles to get stuff done. (I’m not putting myself down, by the way, I’m just being honest and realistic—which is the first step in this exercise.) If Future Me is actually just me...how does that happen?

Where’d that gap come from?

Turns out this way of thinking is ubiquitous—and our brains are to blame.

Researchers have found that we perceive our future selves as strangers—not someone we’re actually connected to or become.

"Put in practical terms, when thinking of yourself in a month or a year or a decade, your brain registers that person in ways similar to how it would register Taylor Swift or the mailman or the lady driving the car in the next lane over," writer Becky Kane explains in an article for Doist.

That's why it makes it so hard to do things in the present—whether it's saving money or hitting the gym—that will benefit our future selves. You can’t look out for your own self-interest if you think that Future You is someone else entirely.

Researchers have found that we perceive our future selves as strangers—not someone we’re actually connected to or become.

Here’s a little bit of advice from Kane on how to bridge that gap: “First, you can be fairly confident that your Future Self will think and act in the same exact way that your Present Self thinks and acts. That means you have full knowledge of your Future Self’s weaknesses and can anticipate your Future Self’s actions and counteractions with reasonably high accuracy.”

So if this holds true, then it actually is possible to hack your goals in pursuit of a happier, more motivated, and perhaps calmer Future You.

Here’s how to nudge your Present Self into doing things that will make your Future Self very, very happy.

1. Plan for Your Weaknesses

Instead of putting all your eggs in a basket that lives in the future, you can actually make a move right now—and it starts by remembering that Future You is just you, with all your same desires, goals, things to do, and struggles. That last one is key. Think of it this way: Future You isn't going to be able to #crushgoals if it's still dealing with the same pain points Present You is facing.

First, identify what feels tough about your goal—whether it's actually making that workout class on time, taking the initiative to make plans for the weekend, or having healthy food in the house to snack on.

You can assume that Future You is most likely going to struggle with these same things—unless you take action now. Planning ahead for how to tackle these things can bring you a sense of peace and control, and create the ideal environment for Future You to thrive.

Here are a few ways almost everyone can be kinder to their Future selves:

●︎ Block distracting sites.

It’s easy to say, “I should stop spending so much time on Instagram!” but not so easy to actually listen. But change your language around this idea and watch what happens. “If I spend a lot of time on Instagram right now, I will have less time for my (creative projects/gym routine/ making a home-cooked meal) later.”

Tying what you’re doing right now together with how you will feel later can make you much more aware of the consequences of your actions. And if that doesn't work: Download one of the many browser extensions that can help you block distracting sites.

●︎ Lay out your workout clothes.

If getting out the door is the hardest part of your workout—and isn’t it always?—then do your future treadmill-running self a favor and lay out your clothes and gym bag the night before. And if actually doing the workout is your sore point, make a plan to meet a friend at the gym or for a run.

●︎ Keep a stocked fridge.

Weekends are for watching movies, seeing friends, and not doing boring stuff. At least that’s how my thinking goes. Errands are the last thing I want to do on a Sunday, but the one thing that gets me to my local grocer named Mister Mango is remembering Future Me—she’s getting home late on a Wednesday night, nothing’s open in her neighborhood, and lunch was nine hours ago.

Spending 20 minutes grabbing two bags of groceries full of healthy, energizing ingredients now is the kind thing to do for Future Me. (And she’s always grateful.)

●︎ Automate your savings.

The whole “set it and forget it” maxim really works. If you can only spend the money you have, and you want to plan for a wealthy future, you can’t pretend that your future self is going to hit the lottery or come into a big bucket of wealth.

Present You can actually make that wealth happen by planning for it. Banks make this incredibly easy—you can set up recurring monthly deposits from your checking account to your savings account, where the money can sit for a rainy day. The same goes for putting money into a 401K or a Roth IRA. Slowly socking away even $50 a month can add up in ways that you Future Self will thank you for. And for more tips on saving for Future You: Try Shine's 7 Days to Better Money Moves audio challenge, now in our app.

2. Channel the Voice of Future You

The other night, when I was exhausted after a long day, the last thing I wanted was to rummage around and pick out an outfit for the next day. But then a little birdie seemed to whisper in my ear, Tomorrow morning will be as busy as it always is…and you’ll have a deadline to get out the door...why not get it done now? And for once, I actually listened.

That voice of Future Me somehow convinced me to find a sweater and pants and socks and guess what? The next morning was seamless.

You see, the more you protect Future You by knocking off things you can do today, the more you will encourage yourself to keep up these positive routines.

3. Get Realistic About Future You

One reason our future selves feel so out of reach and like practically different people is because we think we have no idea what will happen between now and then—maybe things will change! Maybe you will win the lotto!

But maybe your Present You is who you get—and that’s a wonderful thing, too. So you should be kind to Future You now and help them evolve. All it takes is a little foresight—and an eye on your very bright future.

Read next: If You Want to Be Happy, Make Your Future Self Happy

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