One of the most powerful mindset shifts that I have made was to start thinking of my future-self as though he was a separate person, who is also my best friend. It might sound a bit odd to imagine ourselves as separate entities through time, but most of us already do this unconsciously, but in a negative way. Being aware of this has allowed me to turn it into a positive, one that has made a huge impact in my life. This started a few years ago after I had read in a few different places the idea that if we talked to our friends in the negative way we talk to ourselves they wouldn’t be our friends for much longer. One of the times I was mulling it over an interesting new observation came to my mind, if we treated other people like we treat ourselves we would lose their friendships even faster.
Imagine that you offered to cook dinner for one of your best friends or a relative that you care deeply about. You would hope to arrive to a nice clean kitchen, all the dishes washed and away, counters clean, ready for you to work and set up for success. But what if you came to a kitchen where the counters were covered with assorted grime and a week’s worth of dishes, and they show you into the kitchen saying “I’d better get out of your way”, expecting you to clean everything up before you get started! You’d think “what a jerk”; you might even renege on your promise and get take out instead; you certainly wouldn’t feel appreciated; and you probably would never offer to do something for them again. The weird thing is: this is how most of us treat our future-selves all the time! I wrote previously about how I treated myself in precisely this way.
We have a tendency to treat our future-selves very badly indeed, often as some sort of slave to whom all unpleasant tasks are delegated. We don’t feel like doing the dishes right now, so we leave them for some magical future time when we will feel like it, but it is very rare for us to suddenly get struck with the desire to wash them; I now get the urge to wash the dishes but only because it has become a habit, not something I actually want to do. We also offload consequences to our future-selves for example with our diet and exercise: we plonk ourselves in front of the TV to enjoy our cake, and let future-us deal with the consequences.
The real world consequences of leaving our chores undone are that they grow and become more difficult to deal with, and of course we never actually feel like doing them. Normally we continue to procrastinate and only end up doing them out of necessity, rather than proactively. When we have no clean underwear or dishes left we are forced to tackle it, and often it is actually more work as the gunk has dried on. If this extra work wasn’t bad enough the psychological price we pay is much worse: imagine how you would be feeling in the example above when you walked into the messy kitchen. You would probably feel that the person you care about doesn’t care for or appreciate you and your hard work, and you would start to resent them more and more each time it happens, and eventually you might actively dislike them. Which is exactly what happens when we treat ourselves in this way; we are signalling that we do not like ourselves and are not worth the effort to set ourselves up for success. Eventually we might actually dislike ourselves and start actively undermining our future endeavours as an act of spiteful revenge. You might not be at this point yet, but nowhere down this road is a good place to be.
So how do you fix this? It can be pretty hard to start treating kindly someone who has treated you so badly in the past, even when that person is yourself, so you must start by forgiving yourself and making some small gestures of love. I started by preparing all my clothes for work the night before; even if all I wanted to do was flop into bed I knew that it would be a lot more effort and stressful trying to get everything sorted in the morning without waking anyone else up, and so those 5-10 minutes in the evening would pay off greatly. One problem when we make small gestures for other people is that sometimes they don’t realize we did them, or perhaps they did but because we were not around at the time they noticed they forget to express their gratitude when they see us again, making us feel unappreciated. With ourselves we don’t have that problem: we were there when we did the chores and we are there when we experience the benefits. When we experience that calm morning before work we can thank our past-selves; and later when we see how much better our day goes when we start it off right we can thank our past-selves again right then! The great thing about this is that it is much faster to repair and create a healthy relationship with ourselves. You feel appreciative and appreciated for every single thing you do to help your future self. This means that you can quite quickly build love for yourself; and since we enjoy feeling loved so much your will want to do even more to help your future-self out.
When you start to treat yourself well you will also start to trust yourself, trust that you will act in your own self interest, which makes it easier to do tasks for which the benefits are not short term but further off in the future. This trust also means that when you do fail to prepare you won’t be angry at yourself. I don’t always get all the dishes done, sometimes workouts are missed, but because this isn’t the regular pattern and because I trust myself I know I had a legitimate excuse and was not just lying to myself to avoid what I had to do. It also means I can comfortably take action which causes problems or pain in the short term but benefits me long term. I actually use this same principle of self-friendship and trust to build the habit of regular exercise. Foam rolling with the TriggerPoint GRID and other self-care modalities such as stretching and warm baths are a great way to start to care for your body as you feel the benefits quite quickly. This means that you spend a lot of time appreciating yourself for the kind deed you did that resulted in less aches and pains all day. Once you have built up your relationship around these exercises it becomes easier to incorporate strength and conditioning exercises for which the benefits are further off, and for which some short-term suffering is to be expected. You know that some day in the future you will be in a position to appreciate all that work you put in.
By treating yourself as your own best friend not only does your life improve in innumerable little ways as you find more and more ways to help yourself, but it actually allows you to be happy. Loving yourself is obviously an important ingredient for a happy life, but it also meant couldn’t allow myself to play the martyr and suffer so my family could be happy anymore, as that would be mistreating and leaving out one of my family members: myself. Imagine how much better and happier the world would be if we all treated our future-selves with kindness.