Are You Choosing Your Present Self or Future Self?

A photo of a woman in silhouette at sunset, holding a crystal ball in front of her face that catches the light.
Photo by Garidy Sanders.

It was recently suggested that I start asking myself if the choices I am making benefit current me or future me.

The implication was that I should be disciplined with current me for the benefit of future me. That current me should fight her inherent laziness, buckle down, and work hard so that future me reaps the sweet, sweet rewards.

I don't like this perspective at all.

Don't get me wrong, I am all about working now so I can enjoy something later, delaying gratification, and having some good old fashioned Type II Fun (things that are fun in retrospect, not while you're doing them). I eat the crust of my toast first so that I get to enjoy the middle part completely uninhibited at the end. I get it.

But! Seeing our present selves as only lazy, shortsighted dummies does us no favours in the present or the future because our future self is actually just our present self waiting to happen. So at what point will present you have travelled far enough into the future to have earned whatever rewards you are delaying?

Your present self deserves just as much joy, freedom, and fun as your future self.

Your future self needs some fun memories to look back as much as it needs the material benefits of your hard work and prudence.

Chances are also pretty good that your present self enjoys working hard sometimes. That just sitting around all the time doesn't feel that good for your present self. That might be why, during lockdown, most people suddenly became interested in new exercise routines and baking: our present selves enjoy being active and productive.

We may actually be pretty bad at identifying what our present self really wants, let alone guessing what our future self might be happy with.

For example!

We might claim that we are skipping an important family event to work overtime for the sake of our future selves, but really our future self will wind up regretting always choosing work over family and our present self is simply avoiding standing up for itself.

We might say we are choosing our present self by chilling out for the day and binging a new show, but really our present self would rather call a friend or pick up a ukulele, if only it could summon that tiny bit of effort to get started.

So what do we do with this suggestion to ask ourselves if our choices benefit present us or future us?

We ask away! It's good to know what choices we are making.

Sometimes, choose the present. Other times, choose the future. In either case, let's be honest about what our future and present selves actually want.

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