Your Future Self Will Thank You: Affective Forecasting and Procrastination

LittleIt’s October¬†now, and the weather is cool. ¬†Soon, for most of us, it will be cold and wet outside, and outdoor exercise will be a drag.

Think ahead to April. The weather will be warmer, the flowers will be blooming, and being outdoors will be a pleasure again. So what do you say to signing up for an April race?

If you’re like most people, the idea of a future race is much more appealing than a race today. We tend to believe that our future selves will be more prepared and motivated to tackle a challenge than our present selves. Unfortunately, this belief is usually wrong. Making predictions about how we’ll feel in the future is called affective forecasting, and we are lousy at it.

Lifehacker recently posted an article recommending that we use the future self to motivate behavior today. Their slant on the issue was that since we tend to treat our future selves like a different person, let’s at least treat them like people we love and care about; this may mean NOT making unrealistic future commitments and not postponing unpleasant tasks for your “other” self to take care of.

I use the concept of the future self myself to minimize some procrastination. I do it a little differently. I think about how happy my future self will be to find a certain task done. For some reason, this is a really effective tool for me to motivate my long training runs. If I can think about my future Sunday self napping on the couch with my cats and a good novel, I’m way more likely to get out the door on Friday or Saturday to log the miles.

I also find my future self is a good motivator for organization or preparation-type tasks. My future self loves finding her stuff in order!

The final area where I am a good precursor to my future self is with procurement chores, like grocery shopping. Sometimes when I know my future self is really, really going to want to find a Diet Coke in the fridge, I’m able to motivate a trip to the store to pick it up in advance. I always make sure to thank my past self when I find my favorite goodies when I want them.

DAMMIT Past Self! I told you to buy cookies and let me sleep in!
DAMMIT Past Self! I told you to buy cookies and let me sleep in!

I am still sometimes evil to my future self, especially around enrolling in races. I consider this the self-inflicted equivalent of forcing a child to eat his vegetables. That doesn’t make me any happier with my past self when I’m waking up at 5 am on a weekend to line up to run a bunch of miles. Oh well.

How do you use your future self to motivate your present self?