Just my ‘magination

What if the only thing limiting our future was our ability to imagine it?

In a TED talk, Daniel Goldstein quotes philosopher Derek Parfit: “We might neglect our future selves because of some failure of belief or imagination.”  Think about that:  we might be mistreating the yet-to-be version of ourselves merely because we suck at being able to imagine ourselves there in that future.

Goldstein, a behavioral economist, used the quote to illustrate why people often don’t save enough money for retirement — they can’t fathom themselves becoming old and so putting a dollar away today to support themselves when they’re old seems ludicrous — but can’t this be applied to any decision that puts us on a path either to the person we want to be or some other alternate universe that we’re not as thrilled about?

When I’m trying to use willpower to put the cookie down, I often say to myself something along the lines of “Don’t let short term pleasures override long term goals”. The problem is, of course, that the short term pleasure, is, well, here. Right now. And usually quite yummy. And the long term goal? Well, it’s oh so far away. My imagination is quite challenged to see how not eating the cookie today will cause me to be svelte and sexy in a year.

And that lean and fit future me? I have faith that I’ll get there, but instead of being a wholehearted, can totally see it in my mind’s eye kind of belief, it’s more of the “sure it’ll happen but I have no idea how” kind of belief (that allows me to eat the cookie because there doesn’t seem to be a straight line between it and my future).

So, what if it really is just a matter of imagination?

What if I spent time envisioning the future me? I mean, really picturing myself, drawing up a complete story of what I’ll feel like, what I’ll be doing, how I’ll look. Down to such details as what my daily eating habits are and how many times a week I’ll be outside running and even what cute shoes I’ll have treated myself to. Will this help? Will spending, say, 10 minutes a day playing this movie in my mind make a difference?

To be honest, it feels a bit woo-woo to me. A little hokey, even.

But then, can you think of something you wanted so bad you could almost taste it? Something that you would have sacrificed anything to get? I certainly do — 4 years ago, I decided that I wanted to place in the top 3 in my age group in the local duathlon. I knew I needed to do some hard run and bike training, and I also had to drop a little weight. But my desire to get there was visceral; I could feel it in my bones. And you know what? I worked my butt off (almost literally) to get there. I ate well. I trained hard. I didn’t let many short term pleasures get in the way of my goal. There were days when I wanted nothing more than to go back to bed rather than getting up and working out, but I dragged myself out of bed anyway.  I couldn’t let down my future self. And damn if that didn’t feel awesome.

That’s the feeling to bottle.

At the time, I didn’t really think of it in terms of working today for my future self, but that’s exactly what it was. I could totally see myself on the course and picture what I would look like, how I would feel and exactly how I was going to race on that day.  I knew what I had to do those days in February and March to feed the person I was going to be on that day in late June.  

So today starts my experiment in envisioning my future self:  I’m going to spend time meditating on becoming the me I want to be. I’m going to paint a vivid picture in my head of what I’m going to look like, the things I’m going to be doing and even the day-to-day routine that I’m going to follow.  For this to work, that vision will have to be as real as something I can touch and hold, turning it around in my hands and seeing it from all sides. So real that my whole being will vibrate in harmony with it.  

Can this work?  I guess I’ll just have to wait and ask my future self.

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