When was the last time you thought about your future self? Not the one that will exist in a couple of weeks or months, but the version of you that’s ten, twenty, thirty years older? I don’t mean this in the “I’m so screwed,” sense, either.
When was the last time you thought about your future self and how one day, you’ll get to be that person and live that life? And how the actions you take today will add up to the life that you live in 2030?
It’s probably been a while, hasn’t it?
We’ve become so disconnected from the person we’re going to be one day. It’s odd because that person is us. Your future self is still you. One day, you will get to be that person.
We think of our future selves in abstract terms. We have this vague notion that time passes and things change, but we rarely consider how closely connected we are to that future version of ourselves. That’s you. That future version of you is a real person with a real life.
From what I can tell, as we get older, it’s easier to connect with our future selves because we see just how quickly time can pass and how much things change. However, as young adults, it’s not something we’ve really come to terms with.
Instead of fearing it, dreading it, avoiding it, actively making life worse for your future self and then feeling guilty about it, take tiny steps to start to love your future self. Empathize with them. Make it a priority, and it will pay off.
I understand that this sentiment makes a lot of people anxious. It could be because you feel you haven’t done anything recently for your future self, because it feels hopeless, or because you just don’t know where to start. Maybe you’ve made choices that will make life worse for your future self. I’m not here to judge or call you out, only to help you turn things around.
It’s okay if you’re feeling anxious. We’ll take this one step at a time. Acting for the benefit of your future self doesn’t need to be complicated. Later in this article, we’ll cover some small steps that you can take right now to start making your life better down the line.
You Are in Control
You create your future. It takes work, yes, but you’re in the driver’s seat, and you get to decide where to go.
There are typically two reactions people have to this: feeling afraid because they don’t trust themselves behind the wheel, or feeling empowered because they’re going to figure out where they want to go and how to get there.
No matter where you are now, if you hang out with me enough, you’ll end up in the latter camp. Taking charge of your future isn’t as overwhelming as it seems. Start small. Soon enough, you’ll start to see things falling into place as a result of your efforts. It’s reassuring when life begins to work out, and you’ll find yourself feeling empowered instead of afraid.
Why do we feel so disconnected from our future selves?
I really couldn’t give you a concrete answer. I don’t know if anyone can. If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s because we’re so wrapped up with what’s going on right now that it’s hard to imagine the future. Everything feels so real and immediate in the moment that we rarely take the time to consider how our decisions could play out in a few years.
Time will pass whether you’re using it or not. One day, you’ll be thirty, fifty, probably even ninety. Now, I’m not too concerned with the ninety-year-old version of you. Most of my readers are young adults. I’m talking about the five-years-from-now you, whether that makes you 20 or 35 (or older. No shade to my non-young-adult readers.)
The choices you make now determine the life you’ll live in the future. Your life is the result of your actions. And each small decision may not seem like much, but they add up quickly.
Why should you be kind to your future self?
You get to be that person one day! Right now, you have the power to start building your dream life. You choose at every moment whether you’re going to work toward it or not.
Notice that I said you “get to” be that person, not “have to.” The words that we use matter.
You can build a life that feels like a privilege to live. You can wake up every day and think, “I’m so excited that I get to be me today.” Yes, really. It’s possible. Even for you. No matter how absurd that sounds, it can happen. It will take time, and it won’t always be easy, but it is possible. It’s also likely to be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.
Befriending your future self is also a way to cut down on procrastination. It’s been shown that people who procrastinate are less likely to plan for the future, and procrastinators see the future as “a time unlike the present.” (Source)
When you start to connect with and think about the person you will be one day, you build bridges between the present and the future. The future becomes an extension of the present. It becomes easier to see your actions today as events that will produce results in the future.
What does it mean to be best friends with my future self?
Being best friends with your future self means that you don’t do things that would hurt them. You don’t make their life harder; you don’t push your problems onto them unnecessarily. Instead, you often go out of your way to do nice things for them. You care deeply about them and want them to be as happy as they possibly can be. You treat them the way you treat your best friend.
How to Care for Your Future Self
Envision Your Dream Life
I’m guessing you know your actual best friend pretty well. That’s kind of the point of best friends. Well, in order to be best friends with your future self, to understand and empathize with them, you need to know them as much as possible.
Take some time today to write down who you want to be. Dream big, and get as detailed as you can. Picture yourself a decade from now. A lot happens in a decade. How does your future self spend their time? Where do they live? What does their home look like? What do they look like? Pets? Family? Travel? Car? Mindset? Hobbies?
This is a lot to consider at once, especially if you rarely think about your future self. Do your best, and revisit what you wrote as you have more ideas. Your ideal future self is continually evolving as your present self grows and learns each day.
I’ve found that doing a life audit gave me a much better idea of what I’d like to accomplish in the future. When you know what you want to do, it’s easier to figure out how to get there.
Start with those small preventative things that you’ll definitely regret not doing in the long run: flossing, moisturizing, wearing sunscreen, and stretching. Flossing, moisturizing, and sunscreen take less than a minute, and even five minutes of stretching when you get up in the morning not only feels fantastic but will help to prevent stiffness and pain later in life.
If all of this is making you feel overwhelmed and anxious, start with just those four things. Rather than attempting to overhaul your entire life, build a tiny morning routine and aim to do it every single day for three weeks. Put a note on your bathroom mirror as a reminder, if you need to.
Starting small with these few things will help you to build consistency and confidence. If you’re already doing some or all of them, you’re more on top of your shit than you think you are.
Advice From a 90-year-old
A few months ago, my fiance’s grandfather turned 90. During his birthday brunch, we asked if he had any advice on how to live so long. He had a few answers, but the one he emphasized the most was to exercise regularly.
Just this past weekend, I visited with my 94-year-old grandmother for Mother’s Day. She is in good mental and physical health, and, believe it or not, she still goes for walks often.
These nonagenarians are backed by science. Exercise improves mood, increases energy, promotes better sleep, and is frequently recommended to treat depression and anxiety. (Source) In my own experience, working out has also boosted my confidence and quickly become one of my favorite parts of the day.
Regularly getting up and moving is one of the best things you can do for your future self. The gym isn’t the only way to exercise, either. I love weightlifting, but it isn’t for everyone. Get out and experiment until you find something you love.
Exercise is also one of the fastest ways to benefit your future self. With consistent effort, it’s pretty common to start seeing results in as little as a month. In less than a year, you can totally transform your body.
Eat Less Crap
Hand in hand with exercising is eating a more balanced diet.
One of the biggest issues with the Standard American Diet aka SAD (yes, it’s really called that) is that it contains absurd amounts of sugar. It’s recommended that women not exceed 25 grams of added sugar per day, and men should aim for less than 38 grams. (Source)
There are 39 grams of sugar in a 12 oz. Coke.
I’m just gonna let you marinate in that for a second.
One can of Coke has more sugar in it than you’re supposed to consume in an entire day.
High levels of sugar consumption have been linked to depression. It’s bad for your joints, your teeth, your skin, your heart… pretty much everything. Added sugar is terrible for you, and we are consuming way too much.
Start reading nutrition labels. Getting more comfortable in the kitchen is one of the best things you can do for your future self. At the very least, look online for the nutrition information for your favorite restaurants.
Something that I didn’t realize until I started eating healthier was that my bad diet was almost entirely responsible for my constant lack of energy. If you’re tired all the time, look at what you’re eating. It’s going to be very difficult to make positive changes elsewhere in your life if your diet has you feeling exhausted all the time.
The more positive changes you make, the easier they become. This is not only because you get better at building habits and pushing yourself to do challenging stuff, but because each positive change makes you feel better. Having the mental and physical energy that comes from a good diet and regular exercise makes it so much easier to start putting work into other areas of your life.
Find Mentors and Role Models
Find someone who has been where you are and made changes for the better. Find someone you look up to. Find someone who inspires you. Find someone who knows how to do what you want to do. Incorporate these people into your life as much as possible.
Not a day goes by that I don’t read, watch, or listen to content made by someone I admire. Your mentors don’t need to be people that you know in real life. I can be your mentor. I’m here putting what I know into the world. If you take it in and apply it to your life regularly, then I’m your mentor.
(I’m gonna shamelessly plug my email list here. I’ll pop a little bit of motivation and a weekly post roundup into your inbox every Monday morning, in case you’re looking for more positive influences in your life.)
I see my mentors as my future self’s cohort. They give me someone to look up to and emulate when I’m not sure what I’m doing. Following the paths of those you admire is a great place to start if you don’t know what to do.
Take some time to look at where your mentors were in their journey five, ten, or twenty years ago. There are several women whose careers I now admire, and I know that when they had just started, their lives looked just the way mine does now. If I want to be where they are, I have to put in the work that they did.
Take It One Day At a Time
Aside from the fact that there are literally no other ways to live your life, taking it one day at a time takes the semi-complicated matter of befriending your future self and breaks it down into something doable. In fact, take it one hour at a time, if you need to.
You don’t have to change your entire lifestyle at once. The only moment you have is the present. Break it all down into manageable pieces. It doesn’t matter if “manageable” means tiny five-minute tasks. Those five-minute tasks are infinitely better than doing nothing at all.
Each day, work to be just a tiny bit better than you were the day before. Start small. Build habits and routines so that your actions become automatic and you don’t have to fight a battle to do them every day. With a little practice, you’ll be helping out your new best friend all the time without even realizing it.
Work Hard at the Things You Want
It will pay off.
There’s a reason—well, a lot of reasons, actually—that I quit my job as a developer to write. One of the primary ones is that this is what I want to do. It may have made my life a bit more difficult now, but in the long run, I know it’s going to pay off. But that’s because I’m willing to show up every day and put in the work.
Your future self is usually the one who loses when you take the easy way out. Empathizing with your future self makes it much harder to keep pushing all of your work on them.
Stop eating the marshmallow. Practice delayed gratification. Ultimately, that’s what treating your future self well is all about: choosing to take the more difficult path now in exchange for a greater reward later. Put in the work now so you can enjoy the results in the future.
If you’re used to instant gratification, as so many of us are, start small. Find something that will pay off in a week or two. Maybe it’s studying now so that you do well on the exam next week, or even just getting enough sleep for a few days in a row. Drinking more water, eating less sugar and more vegetables, cleaning, and exercising all start to pay off pretty quickly.
Practice with these small things. When you see how great the rewards can be for only a couple of weeks of work, it’ll leave you much more inspired to do things that may not pay off for years or even decades.
It’s important to realize that, though this will take work, that isn’t a bad thing. That work can be, and very often is, enjoyable and fulfilling. If work is still something you dread and fear, The Happiness Paradox can walk you through why challenging, rewarding work is an essential part of the happiness equation and not just something to avoid at all costs.
Plan It Out
You need to know where you’re going and how to get there. This takes planning. If you’re new to planning, well, you’re in the right place.
In my experience, doing a life audit has been helpful in keeping track of long-term goals that I may not be able to work toward yet. I keep all of my goals on a Trello board so that I can check in periodically and make sure I’m still headed in the direction that I want to go.
For my most important goals, I use the 5-4-3-2-1 method. This is a strategy of setting goals for 5 years, 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, and 1 hour at a time. It helps you break down the nebulous long term goals into steps that you can do right now.
Remember at the beginning of this post when I had you write out your dream life? Start taking all of those pieces and turning them into a plan. Decide what you can start working on now to get to where you want to be.
Finally, Find Balance
Sometimes, I struggle with letting myself take breaks to relax. I’m so excited about what’s coming for my future self that I work to the point of burnout. I know that sounds ridiculous to a lot of people, but you may be doing the same thing without realizing it.
Whenever you have that sweeping wave of “I’m going to change my entire life right now,” and stick with it for a few weeks or months but ultimately go right back to where you were before, that’s burnout. You burn out when you don’t strike a successful balance between working and relaxing.
It is possible to build up the resilience to work more and more, but it’s still important to enjoy the time you have now. Yes, your future self is your new best friend, and you want to go out of your way to make their life better, but don’t make yourself miserable in the process. Make sure that you plan adequate time to relax and enjoy this moment.
Look, I know I make people anxious when I say these kinds of things. It’s common for thoughts about the future to cause anxiety, but they don’t have to. When you start to take control of your future through conscious, intentional action, the future becomes exciting instead of scary.
You can do it, and it’s going to be okay. I am here for you, and I will be here for you every step of the way. Also, it’s not as hard as it seems like it will be.
I speak from a place of experience when I tell you all of this. I’ve spent the last several years doing as much as I can to benefit my future self, and now I have days where I get to be that future self that I was working for. Those days are some of the best days of my life.