Saturday, April 11, 2015

Future Prospects

MRIs have shown that the area of the brain that is activated when subjects think of their future selves is the same area that is activated when they think of strangers. Without conscious effort, we each have a physiological disconnect from the older "us."

Further, we tend to think of our future selves as more favorable versions of our present selves. We idealize our futures - how self-disciplined we will be, how healthy we will be, how secure our positions will be - without envisioning the unknowns (How can we?) that pop up in daily life that derail even our most well-made plans. 

This idea is promulgated by the media in the popularity of stories about, for example, very fit elderly people, as if this were some sort of state that all of us could partake of, if we would just (fill in the blank with whatever is being promoted): exercise more, eat raw foods, abstain from vices, etc. This results in an availability cascade of information that feeds an unrealistic image.

We could even fall prey to this bias by sabotaging our goals, whatever they may be, by telling ourselves we'll do better the next day. "Tomorrow I will..." and make up for today's lapse. But tomorrow we will still be ourselves and subject to the same randomness that we had to deal with today.

This inherent tendency to be disconnected from our future selves may account for, among many other things, why people have dusty workout equipment in their houses. Bought with the best of intentions of regular use, reality came into play and the dust gathered, illustrating that our future selves are more likely to be like our present, procrastinating, disorganized selves, than what we might prefer to imagine.

(Perhaps some businesses use this tendency to their advantage, such as those who sell gym memberships to all those New Year's resolution makers with their unrealistic ideas of their year ahead.)

In my case, for years, virtually afraid to say "no," I overloaded myself continually. Due to my optimistic appraisal of what I would be able to accomplish in the future (even the next hour or day), I allowed leaders to give me work, yea, I volunteered for more work than would be physically possible for me to do. Enter stress and all its accompanying physical and mental ramifications, and final nervous breakdowns.

I wonder what things that I should do today that I prefer to push off onto that nebulous future me? Or conversely, what undesirable things will I give myself permission to do today that I think my future self will not do, or perhaps be so virtuous as to make up for?

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