The Two Yous
The office holiday potluck was a big success, but there were too many desserts and half of the brownies you brought in are left over. You desperately try to get someone else to take them home because “If I take them home I’ll just eat them.”
Wait, what? Shouldn’t you be able to eat them when you want to, and not eat them when you don’t want to? What’s going on?
That Other You
You have a trust issue. You don’t want to take the brownies home because you don’t trust the future you not to scarf down all those brownies even though the current you knows you shouldn’t.
You are a hybrid of both the present and future you. Behavioral economist and Nobel prize winner Richard Thaler calls this the planner-doer model. When contemplating doing something in the future, you are the present you – the planner. But when it comes time to do that thing, you become the future you, the do-er.
The conflict between these two versions of ourselves happens because the “planner you” uses the big thinking brain (neocortex) to determine the best course of action and decide to do it at some later time. But when it comes time for the future “do-er you” to act, the subconscious lizard brain often takes over with its impulses and urges, subverting your best-laid plans.
The planner wants us to eat healthy, but the do-er eats a plate full of brownies. The planner wants to save for retirement, but the do-er buys what it wants now. The planner sets the alarm for 6 a.m. The do-er hits the SNOOZE button seven times.
The good news is there are actions the present you can take to make it easier for the future you to do the right thing:
Create a device to lock yourself in to completing your task. Direct deposit savings programs are an example of a great way to do this because they remove the option of not doing it, at least without a major intervention.
Another locking mechanism is the Self-contract – I told my daughter yesterday that this busy holiday season is putting me in danger of not getting my newsletter out on time for the first time ever. She said, ‘Good - you’ll owe me $20!” She was just kidding, but as I thought about it, I realized I SHOULD make a deal like that with her because it will help the future me stay on target with my writing.
The site stickk.com offers another way for you to make a contract with your future self, by creating your own financial and social penalties for not doing what you plan. It’s an ingenious concept!
The planner-friendly environment
Writer James Clear is an expert on habits and he says that the most powerful way to change your behavior is to change your environment. That is why the intuitive strategy of keeping the brownies out of the house works.
Similarly, look at the space where you want to get work done. Are there visual and audio distractions nearby? For most of us – plenty! Can they be removed? Ridding distractions from your future self’s work environment can help that person stay on track.
It is easy for us to get discouraged when we break our resolutions or procrastinate. But don’t get down, it’s just you being human. Do something about it by anticipating how the future you will behave and help it to follow through on your present good decisions.
Think well and be well.
- Steve Haffner
Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?