In the practice of mindfulness, the idea is to be present; live in the now. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
What’s meant by that is to be fully aware of the moment. Whether you’re having a bad day or a good one, your very existence as a sentient being is a miracle if you just stop to notice.
What it doesn’t mean is binge-watching Netflix instead of going to work, scarfing junk food instead of taking care of your body, or blowing every dime you make without regard for your financial future.
Hey … don’t shoot the messenger.
Be here now (and later)
We’re told that our suffering comes from being distracted from the here and now by thoughts of the past and the future. And that’s true.
But it’s also true that our brains are wired to value instant gratification over the welfare of our future selves. In fact, neurological scans reveal that we think of our future self as if it’s an entirely separate person:
Unsurprisingly, people’s brains were most active when thinking about their current selves and least active when thinking about a current other. But Hershfield’s team found that participants’ brain activity while considering their future selves more closely resembled brain activity while thinking about a current other rather than the current self.
So, when you save for retirement, for example, it’s like you’re giving your money to someone else. Not good, but how do you make the present version of yourself look out for future you?
Back to the future (self)
The obvious start is to convince your present self that future you is, well, you. Because that’s not only true, but you’re also likely to end up with feelings of shame, guilt, and worry as a result of not doing now what you should.
Combine that with focusing on the small wins in the process rather than achieving the goal. When you’re thinking in terms of long-term results, it can be really difficult to maintain discipline on behalf of your future self.
So, write 500 words of your novel to feel good about getting it off today’s to-do list. Focus on the great taste of healthy food rather than the long-term health benefits. Find a sport or activity you love instead of slogging it at the gym to lose that weight.
That’s how you get the present you and your future self on the same page. A classic win-win.
Can’t work towards your long-term goal? Blame your brain (Fast Company)