❝Your future needs you, your past doesn't.❞ -anonymous
In the television show How I Met Your Mother, Ted and Marshall have a difficult decision to make. It's an uncomfortable decision, so they leave the decision up to future Ted and future Marshall. After some time passes, future Ted and future Marshall become present Ted and present Marshall. They are disappointed in their past selves for not dealing with this difficult decision earlier.
Many of us leave our decisions to our future selves and subsequently become disappointed in our past selves.
It's common to see some version of the question, "What advice would you give to your past self?" The idea is that we can look back from where we are and see how our life would have been different if we had made different choices in the past. Sometimes we ponder what advice we would give to ourselves and our teens. Other times we're asked to advise ourselves in our 20s. The idea is that we would be better off today (as our present selves) if our past selves did things a little bit differently.
Pondering what kind of advice you would give to your past self helps create a link between different versions of you throughout time. It's helpful to see that your past self and your present self are the same person and that the actions your past self took had implications on your present self. This is where most people stop. However, the same exercise can be done by looking the other way through time. Have you wondered what advice your future self would give to you today? Your actions today have implications for future you. Future you in one year or ten years may have some advice for you just like you have advice for your past self.
Mindfulness and meditation teach us that the past and future only exist as thoughts in our minds. Right now is all we ever get to experience. Your life consists only of present moments. This idea often gets misinterpreted as disregard for the future. Critics of mindfulness believe that living in the present moment is about passively letting life happen to you and not planning for the future. This is untrue for many reasons, but the main reason is that being mindful of the present moment helps you recognize that your actions today have implications for future present moments.
CHANGING YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Understanding that our past is connected to our present and that our present will connect to our future helps us change our perspective on how we view the life we have left to live. Your past self, future self, and present self are all the same person. Your past is a sunk cost and can't be changed, but you have much control over what happens in the future. Your present self needs to be cared for just as much as your future self does. Striking a balance is important. You don't focus too much on the present to the detriment of the future, but at the same time, you don't want to become Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol.
As helpful as it can be to give advice to your past self, it's more helpful to think about helping out your future self. Spend some time considering what you can do now to make future you better off. What do you need to be doing now to make yourself in one year happy? What about in five years? Or ten?
You get one life; live intentionally.
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References and Influences
Adams, Scott: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
Ariely, Dan & Jeff Kreisler: Dollars and Sense
Ben-Shahar, Tal: Choose the Life You Want
Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks
Clements, Jonathan: How to Think About Money
Dunn, Elizabeth & Michael Norton: Happy Money
Emmons, Robert: THANKS!
Gilbert, Daniel: Stumbling on Happiness
Hanh, Thich Nhat: You Are Here
Hanson, Rick & Richard Mendius: Buddha’s Brain
Lindsay, James: Life in Light of Death
Manson, Mark: Everything is Fucked
Manson, Mark: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose
McKeown, Greg: Essentialism
Millburn, Joshua Fields & Ryan Nicodemus: Essential
Newcomb, Sarah: Loaded
Sivers, Derek: Hell Yeah or No
Sivers, Derek: How to Live
St. James, Elaine: Simplify Your Life
Steger, Michael & Pninit Russo-Netzer: Meaning360
Wallace, David Foster: This is Water
Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Zweig, Jason: Your Money and Your Brain
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.