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Money and Time: Connecting With Your Past and Future

Your past, present, and future are linked

❝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.

your past is over, your future depends on what you do today


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.

what advice would you give your past self


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.

what advice would your future self give you today

The Meaning in Life Questionnaire assesses two dimensions of meaning in life, the presence of and search for meaning. Presence measures how full you feel your life is of meaning. Search measures how engaged and motivated you are in efforts to find meaning in your life.


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.

you past doesn't need you but your future does


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.

balance your present and future

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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Related Reading
References and Influences

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

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

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.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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