I would classify myself as a future thinker, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Not necessarily ‘where do I see myself in 5 years?’ type contemplations, but more so if I’m making decisions I take my future into account more than the present. To put it in Jordan Peterson’s words, his second rule for life (from his 12 Rules for Life) is ‘Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping’, and I would consider this to be what I am doing.
In considering the future, I’m making decisions based on how they will benefit someone else, except that someone else is a future version of me. Taking care of my future self is essentially the same as taking care of someone else, because I’m not in that person’s mind the same way I’m not in future me’s mind. I’ll be a different person then, and also I have no way of knowing how far along in the future my current actions will help me.
For example, eating as healthily as possible in my youth will hopefully help future me, because maintaining a healthy diet should lead me into a future that is as healthy as possible. Indulging in unhealthy food just because it tastes good is a selfish act, because the only benefit it has is momentary pleasure which can be achieved in an abundance of other ways. Bottom line is.. it won’t have a huge impact on me now, but such selfish indulgence isn’t caring for future me.
I suppose it’s down to working out what sacrifice I want to make. There are many applications of this concept, I’m just using food because it makes the idea easier to digest (haha pun intended), but sacrificing the momentary pleasure I get from eating yummy junk food for a healthier and happier future with hopefully less suffering, seems like a fair trade to me. Some people may want to sacrifice the possibility of a healthy future to indulge in food that brings them pleasure and they’ll cross any future bridges when they come to it.
This is where a broader future thinking comes into play. In order to work out what ‘sacrifices’ (I’m using this word although I don’t view them necessarily as sacrifices, rather just choices) you want to make, you need to work out what you want for your future. Having goals is actually a very important part of happiness, because from a scientific brain perspective, your brain is much happier if it thinks your daily pursuits are contributing to the goals you have. Combining this and future thinking, the choices and sacrifices you make in the present have to be in harmony with what you want for the future, otherwise you are simply being selfish. To reiterate treating future me like another person, if I act selfishly now and expect others to make sacrifices for me in the future, it’s not going to happen. How I act now needs to work in harmony with how I want to be treated. It’s the same principle.
Basically, if I act now in a way that interferes with what I want for the future, I may need to rethink what I want and how I’ll get there. We also need to remember that you won’t be you forever, and you will eventually become a person built from all your choices.
Now, you might be wondering how the title question of this discussion is relevant when all I’ve talked about so far is how future thinking benefits you or is important. Let me explain. As I mentioned earlier, I think about the future a lot, and while I think this is extremely helpful and suits my tendency to like planning and just helps me live a fairly un-chaotic and organised life, I sometimes wonder if I think about it too much.
I definitely thank past me, when I get my assignments in early because past me thought to start them early on and plan my time well, but sometimes I feel as though I’m always five steps ahead of myself. As if I’m not living in the mind of me, but future me, who as discussed, isn’t really me. I worry that making every decision for the future isn’t leaving room for decisions for now, and when will my choices for the future ever catch up to me?
Also I’ve realised that I relish in the moments where I stop thinking about the future. The times where there is no where I would rather be than right here and now. Another point to make here is that the future is somewhat intangible to the right now. It’s an abstract concept that isn’t concrete, so to get carried away by thoughts of future happenings when we can’t possibly know whether they’ll actually happen, is surely not the healthiest of thought processes.
Thinking for the future is often thinking for ‘one day’, and while in some instances it is an extremely beneficial thing to think about, I’ve realised that balance is key. In future thinking, the goal is to have as many days as possible where I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but where I am. We should be making decisions that won’t be to our future’s detriment, but we shouldn’t be trying to make the future happen too fast, which is something that even I have been caught up in. Planning a whole list of projects and starting several all at once is just trying to get too many finished as soon as possible, when I should adopt a one at a time approach.
Be intentionally patient, because the future will come whether we like it or not, and we shouldn’t be trying to rush a fully planned future, but simply make choices in harmony with our dreams for an inevitable one.