❝Today is tomorrow's yesterday.❞ -unknown
In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer accidentally travels back in time while fixing a toaster. He remembers being told that he should not disrupt anything in the past if he was ever to travel back in time but then is surprised by a bug that he kills reflexively. Shortly after, he is transported back to the present, where he finds out that his neighbor and nemesis, Ned Flanders, has become the ruler of the world.
Many time travel stories have some version of this where small changes in the past impact the present greatly. The smallest things in the past create a vastly different present experience; therefore, nobody would want to alter the series of events that led to the present.
Yet, we are constantly doing things in the present, and these things we're currently doing have a dramatic impact on the future.
We are currently living in the future's past.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
The butterfly effect is an idea from chaos theory that says small changes in one thing can have enormous differences in other areas. The name comes from an example - a tornado could be influenced by a distant butterfly flapping its wings in some other part of the world weeks earlier. The flapping wings set off the chain of events that would eventually lead to the tornado.
In the world of personal finance, you can think of a metric that changes over time. This could be the size of your savings or investment portfolio, your success at work, or any other metric that's important to you.
As it is, that trajectory is what you know.
You might be able to think back to some pivotal moments in your life that set you down that path. It could be something that was in your control, like how you handled some situation. Or it could be some random thing that was out of your control; some good luck that came your way, for example.
Without that seemingly minor event, you wouldn't be where you are today.
It can work in the other direction, too. Perhaps there was some seemingly small missed opportunity or some bad luck that set you down the path that you are on, and if not for that seemingly small change, your life would be a lot different right now.
YOUR PAST DOESN'T NEED YOU
This is not to say that you should dwell on things that can't be changed. If anything, this is a call to practice gratitude.
You have a particular life journey, a series of events that have happened that got you to where you are today.
Your life journey is one of many possibilities that could have happened. There are many clichés that drive the point better than I can; "It is what it is," or "Right now, this is how it is."
These clichés help highlight the fact that the past can't be changed. Once an event has happened, it's locked into your life's journey.
Your past doesn't need you.
A grateful person exhibits certain traits. Rather than feeling deprived in life, a grateful person experiences a sense of abundance. A grateful person acknowledges the contributions of others to his/her success and well-being, appreciates life's simple pleasures, and acknowledges the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude.
YOU NEED YOUR PAST
Your relationship with your past is one-directional. Your past doesn't need you, but you need your past. Just because the past can't be changed doesn't mean it's worthless. Your past experiences will inform your future.
In fact, the person you are today is because of your past. Everything that you know, all your strengths, your resilience – is made up of bits of your past.
In order to build your resilience, work on your strengths, and continue to grow, it is helpful to view your past as a series of lessons.
The trick, then, is to harvest your past for lessons. This can be true for successes, but it is definitely true for mistakes. The Dalai Lama's words ring true, "When you lose, don't lose the lesson."
YOUR FUTURE NEEDS YOU
This is not to induce a sense of choice paralysis. Instead, by recognizing that small behaviors can have a big impact over time, we allow ourselves to think more intentionally about how we can help our future selves. We can be more proactive and intentional about the systems we put in place, financial and otherwise.
You might even induce some nostalgia. If you've ever looked back on your past nostalgically, you've undoubtedly experienced the pleasant feelings that come with nostalgia.
Changing something seemingly small in the past could drastically impact the present. Recognizing this allows you to feel grateful for where you are. At the same time, it allows you to recognize that your actions in the present can have a significant impact on the future.
What will you do today that you wouldn't want to change if Future You came back in time?
You get one life; live intentionally.
Subscribe to Meaningful Money
Thanks for reading. If you found value in this article, consider subscribing. Each week I send out a new post with personal stories and simple drawings. It's free, and there's no spam.
If you know someone else who would benefit from reading this, please share it with them. Spread the word, if you think there's a word to spread.
References and Influences
Adams, Scott: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks
Emmons, Robert: THANKS!
Farnam Street: The Butterfly Effect
Frankl, Viktor: Yes to Life, In Spite of Everything
Gilbert, Daniel: Stumbling on Happiness
Hanh, Thich Nhat: You Are Here
Irvine, William: Guide to the Good Life
Sivers, Derek: Hell Yeah or No
Urban, Tim: What's Our Problem?
Wallace, David Foster: This is Water
Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Wikipedia: Bufferfly effect
Yalom, Irvin: Staring at the Sun
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.