Making Your Past, Present, and Future Selves Work in Harmony
“There are very few men—and they are the exceptions—who are able to think and feel beyond the present moment.” —Carl Von Clausewitz
Welcome back, class!
In this lesson, we will learn about our past, present, and future selves and examine how they can either work together to help us complete our goals or be at odds with one another and hinder our progress.
Our Past, Present, and Future Selves
The person you were in the past—the one who committed you to this Big Goal—is a completely different person from the person you are today or the person you will be tomorrow. Likewise, the person inside of you who doubts your abilities is not the same person as the one who’s dutifully making progress toward your Big Goal. So, why would you weigh what they have to say equally? Would you let a near-stranger derail you from accomplishing your most important goals? No!
While working toward your Big Goal, you can picture your life as having three distinct time zones—your past, your present, and your future—with each of these time zones having a unique version of yourself—your past self, your present self, and your future self. There is scholarly research suggesting that your brain discounts rewards you might receive in the future in favor of rewards you could receive now, from which we could infer that our brain sees the present self and the future self as different people. These different time zone identities are distinct and disconnected from one another:
The past self is the “you” that you were every day before today. Your past self may feel easy to dismiss because they have already “passed on,” so to speak, and yet your past self is also responsible for every single decision that has brought you to the current moment. It’s important that you don’t lose sight of the connection between your past self’s commitments and your present self’s obligations. Thank your past self for their contributions—it is because of everything your past self has done that you have the advantages you have today!
The present self is the “you” that you are right now. Your present self may regret the fact that your past self has committed you to such a difficult goal or resent having to prioritize that goal over more fun activities. But your present self also has the power to follow through on your past self’s commitments, as well as set your future self on a path to success. If your present self fails to consider the needs of your future self, you risk undermining your future self’s happiness by placing enjoyable but momentary pleasures above your Big Goal today. Your present self can choose to place your future self in a jam by failing to do their share of the hard work. Conversely, your present self can help your future self achieve success by doing as much of the tough stuff now as possible.
The future self is the “you” that you will be 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, or 30 years from now. Your future self is on the receiving end of your present self’s decisions and depends on your past and present selves to make wise choices that keep their well-being in mind. If both your past self and your present self have done their work, then your future self will be well-situated to have a good life and reach their full potential. But if your past self has shirked their responsibilities and your present self has procrastinated, then your future self will have a much tougher time making the life you want a reality. Your future self relies on your present and past selves to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve success.
Heaven and Hell Statements
Binding your past, present, and future selves together to push them all toward the same goal will require you to recognize that all three selves have a number of goals and fears in common. We can solidify this concept in our minds by writing out a Heaven and Hell Statement.
The Heaven part of a Heaven and Hell Statement is a description of where you want to be in life. This is a situation in which you’ve achieved all your goals in life, formed plenty of fulfilling relationships, and are living comfortably and happily. Keeping a reminder of what you stand to gain by accomplishing your goals will help motivate you whenever you’re feeling low.
The Hell part of a Heaven and Hell Statement is a description of where you don’t want to be in life. This should be a situation in which you don’t achieve your goals, your relationships are broken, and you are living far below your worth. This is also known as “rock bottom.” If you can crystalize what this would feel like in your life, then even when times get tough, you’ll be able to remember what you stand to lose by failing to push through.
1. Identify times in your life when you noticed a disconnect between your past, present, and future selves.
2. Create a Heaven and Hell Statement to look back at whenever you need help getting energized to work on your Big Goal.
In our next lesson, we will learn how to bounce back from failure.
Jordan Thibodeau and Samara Veler
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