Before we start I would like to point out that this isn’t an article about the end of the world or anything particularly apocalyptic in nature. That would be silly. Instead I would like question why as human beings, we always seem to look to the future instead of the here and now. Why we tell ourselves that we will start that new project tomorrow when logic tells us that today would be the best option.
We know this, yet we always fight it anyway. What’s the deal?
Actually, science has an answer
Our brain sees our future self as a totally separate person
This sounds completely insane yet studies from Stanford University have shown this to be true. There are parts of our brain that are stimulated when we think of ourselves, and there are areas that are stimulated when we think of others. Nothing weird there, but where it gets interesting is when we think of our future self, for example when we plan to do something tomorrow, the area of the brain that gets used is that for other people.
No wonder that cake looks so tempting. Consciously we know we shouldn’t eat it but when imagining the future consequences our subconscious mind treats it as if it were happening to a complete stranger.
Luckily we can override this part of our brain, although it took me a while.
How I broke the cycle
Until the age of 31 I had been largely stuck in the retail industry and you don’t need me to tell you how bland and uninspiring this was. I lost count of the number of times I would tell myself that I had to quit and do something a little more productive.
We all have our dreams and we genuinely see ourselves reaching for the stars but at some point the realisation dawns on us that our lives have taken a turn for the incredibly mundane. This hits us like a freight train and that’s when the promises start.
“That’s it, I’m quitting my job”
“I’m going to start my own business”
“I will ask my boss for a pay rise/promotion/miracle”
These fantastic intentions slowly become empty promises and the days turn into weeks then into months and depressingly into years and still we haven’t taken action.
I had the intention to quit my job in January 2012 yet it took me until June before I worked up the courage to finally do something about it. I knew that to break free and make that big change I had to act right now. Every day that passed without action was like a metaphorical slap in the face to my integrity, and my happiness was slowly ebbing away as a result.
I had wanted to make money on my own terms, doing what I truly wanted and not having to answer to some soulless corporation that didn’t give a damn about me. I knew it was a risk and that I would be taking a big financial hit, but I am now making money as a guitar tutor alongside a small income as a freelance writer.
My new life is only just beginning and I have a long way to go but following my gut and taking that first step was one of the best things I have ever done. I just wish I had made it sooner.
The present is the only time we ever have
This simple sentence was the catalyst for me and it is true in so many different ways. There is no such thing as the past or the future. I can tell you are eyeing me with scepticism here, but let me explain.
Everything in your life so far actually happened in the present, in the here and now. Likewise everything that will happen in the future will also happen in the present. Obvious when you think about it, but most of us are guilty of blindly living our lives in a dreamlike state, always thinking ahead and totally missing out on the here and now altogether.
If you aren’t living in the present then you aren’t living, period.
So next time you have that burst of inspiration or you just wish to make a change in your life, don’t rely on your future self to cash the cheques you write. That stranger is unreliable and doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Make that decision now and do it yourself.
Remember there is no tomorrow, it’s just another version of today.
Note: This article was originally written for Stacy Claflin, who kindly allowed me to ‘reclaim’ it back for my own use.