Right now, I could stand up, walk to the kitchen, and pour myself a big glass of water. Mmm.
What I couldn’t do, however, is do the same thing in ten minutes’ time. Why not?
Because I can’t control my future actions – only my actions right now.
From where I sit right now, I can intend to go get the water in ten minutes, I can try to remember to go get the water in ten minutes, I can even set an alarm to remind me to go get the water in ten minutes. What I cannot do from where I sit right now is control whether or not I go get the water in ten minutes.
We can only control our actions in the present moment.
The perils of time-travel
This creates a conundrum – we want to be able to control our actions in the future, because we want the future to be good. But how can we make sure it’s as good as possible if we can’t do anything about it?
Well, careful there. I didn’t say we couldn’t do anything about it. I just said we can’t control it.
Thinking about the future – time-travelling – is not just useful, it’s essential. It’s one of those incredible, uniquely human abilities – what separates us from the animals is our ability to rise above the battlefield of the present moment, and think of the bigger picture.
But where we get stuck is not in our thinking about the future – a good thing – but in projecting ourselves into the future and then trying to act on it from the present. As I said earlier, this is impossible.
We can envision the future. We can plot and plan and scheme and strategise. But we cannot act in the future – we can only act in the present.
Stop making promises to yourself
The place to start is to stop making promises to yourself about what you will or won’t do in the future. Every time you break a promise like this – which is almost inevitable – you lose a little bit of trust in yourself, and this has a nasty habit of compounding.
Instead, start making very small promises about what you will and won’t do right now at this very second. Every time you keep a promise like this – which is easy, because you make very small promises – you gain a bit of trust in yourself, and this too has a habit of compounding.
It all boils down to two choices, really: Make life easier for your future self, or harder. Try doing the thing you’ll be glad you did, right now, whatever it is.