Help me visualize 'future' me.
January 11, 2016 12:44 PM   Subscribe

My therapist and I have been working on improving my self-control, and replacing my bad habits with more constructive ones. She suggested a technique in which I imagine my future self as a personal friend of mine; when I engage in a self-destructive behavior, I would therefore be hurting my good friend. I've had some success with this method, but I'm still having a hard time employing this technique during moments of weakness as the idea is still so abstract for me. How else can I improve/expand upon my therapist's suggestion?

The next therapy session is a ways off. Other tips on resisting bad habits in favor of creating more productive ones would be appreciated as well.
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Your therapist's suggestion, while it sounds great, wouldn't work for me. Self-destructive habits usually have a pay-off that's pleasurable or appealing in some way. I have only had success in changing self-destructive habits by seducing myself to make another, pleasurable choice that's not self-destructive. That means being prepared with special or fun replacement activities that I can choose instead of choosing something I know isn't good for me in the long-run.
posted by quince at 1:23 PM on January 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have a quote hanging on my fridge : "Do something today that your future self will thank you for." I use it as a mantra to keep me on track for my goals. One way this helps me is to remind myself of a real example where this happened in my life.

Twenty years ago, my typing skills were pretty "slow hunt and peck"; I never learned touch-typing in high school. I had bought a Mac Performa 475 for my first computer and it came with Mario Teaches Typing. I knew it would be hard to learn how to touch-type, but I figured it was a skill I should have, so I gave it a go and practiced every night - a thirty year old woman saving Mario with her slowly improving typing skills. Well, it worked and I was touch typing before I knew it! I can't tell you what an invaluable skill this has been with the internet growing so quickly and computers becoming staples in our lives. Future Nora was so glad that Past Nora took the time to learn that skill. So that's my little story, but it is proof of my adage to me and helps get me through those weak times.

Think about an example of this in your life and remember how glad you are that you did that hard thing that you did back then, and know you have it in you to do this hard thing right now. Future you will be glad you did! Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 1:26 PM on January 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

Riffing on NoraCharles' suggestion, perhaps your future-you friend shouldn't be quite so far in the future. Maybe next week, when it will be so nice to have clean clothes and a bit of spare cash? (Or whatever current-you has the bad habit of denying your friend.)
posted by teremala at 1:34 PM on January 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

You can also think about yourself in the near future, which might feel more tangible.

If I think of Tarumba in 2020 it's like my brain doesn't even see her as a person. But if I think of Tarumba tonight in bed, feeling great about not having done xxx, it's just way more effective.

For example,when I am faced with the temptation to watch a million Japanese competitive eating videos and go to bed at 4am, I focus on how happy and well rested tomorrow!Tarumba will be after 8 hours of sleep and that motivates me to close my laptop and go to bed.
posted by Tarumba at 1:36 PM on January 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

It might help you get in the "future self" mindset if you practice by doing favors for your future self that are unrelated to breaking your habits. Start with things that take little effort to do, but that you know you'll appreciate later, like picking out your outfit the night before, or buying an extra pack of toilet paper before you run out. Once you get the opportunity to actually be your future self and acknowledge some concrete nice things Past You has done, it gets a little easier to apply that to more abstract things.

On the other hand, I think quince has a point: the future self idea might not be the best mental model for breaking a long-standing habit. For instance, if you've smoked for years and you're trying to quit, it can be really hard to imagine the hypothetical non-smoking version of you or imagine what they have to be grateful for. You might find it more helpful to use a don't break the chain-style model of thinking, since repeated practice is essential to establishing good habits. I like to imagine being on a game board where you move one space every time you do the "right" thing, and five spaces back when you do the old bad habit. That way, you don't feel like you've gone all the way back to the start if you lapse, but you realize you have to work to make up for it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:43 PM on January 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

How do you see your past self?

For example, I regularly say things like, "I wish I cleaned up yesterday when I had an extra hour, since I knew I'm having guests." And then when it's time for me to run around last minute to clean up, I say to my past self, "I know why you chose that, but it would've been nice if you chose to cleanup instead."

So if I think of my future self as my friend, would I want to treat my future self the way my past self treated me? Well, maybe, because I'm really crazy right now and I need to take care of myself right now. But if I have some spare bandwidth, I try to to do the right thing for "my future self."

Or maybe another way to think about it is if you have a loved one in the household. For example, if there is a long todo list, either I do it or my husband does it. If I'm not feeling it, it's okay for me to ask my husband to do it (and vice versa). However, at the end of the day, if I tell my husband to do all the chores, he would (rightfully) become resentful, so I'll do what I can when I can. Or if I spend all the money, then my husband wouldn't have any money to spend and may even have to work extra. That really wouldn't be fair to my husband, especially if I know that he is also likely to get burnt out at work.

The key here is that you have to truly care for and love your future self, enough that you want to work at and protect that future.

And it doesn't mean that you never have a moment of weakness. Remember that your future self understands your present self, and is (should be) compassionate towards your current wants and needs.
posted by ethidda at 1:54 PM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Getting into the habit of being able to stop what you're doing, think about it, and turn around, is in itself an incredibly difficult but useful life skill. That is where I would start. If you feel like the difficulty is in being able to stop yourself in the first place. That's what mindfulness training is for. It's at that point that you can bring in your future self.
posted by bleep at 2:13 PM on January 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

Maybe next week, when it will be so nice to have clean clothes and a bit of spare cash? (Or whatever current-you has the bad habit of denying your friend.)

Yeah, exactly. You've had days where you've been in a rush, and scrambled to find the other half of a pair of socks, because Past You just threw them into a drawer, right? And other days when you've reached into the drawer to find a matching pair rolled up together, and life was that much easier, because Past You took the time to match the pairs and roll them together when PY did the laundry. The Past You who rolled the socks together was being nice to "future" you.

Same for grocery shopping. You want Future You to have bread, milk, eggs, and coffee for breakfast, so Current You will anticipate that and get those things.

It involves a) understanding your needs (breakfast; matching socks), b) breaking down the steps required to met them (buying the food; rolling the socks & putting them away), c) planning those steps in time for it to be helpful (taking Saturday or Sunday afternoon to do the groceries or laundry, because you know you have time then; buying just enough food for the week - not too little, so you're stuck, and not too much so it spoils).

Those are easier because they're familiar and you have information to use to inform your planning, though.

2nd quince on bad habits... it can be harder to personalize the future effects of actions taken now. If you smoke, for example, maybe you don't have bronchitis and can't imagine yellowed teeth. That happens to "someone else". Maybe, reflect on times your particular bad habits have caused you problems? (Also, it can be hard to imagine how good it would feel to not have that bad habit, if it's been with you for a while. I think it totally depends on the habit.)

For stuff like laundry and shopping, I don't know about imagining a friend; what works for me is "this will make things easier (or better), later".
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:33 PM on January 11, 2016

I guess I've been using a similar technique for myself. Sometimes when I start to feel hopeless or like being destructively inefficient, I just stop and ask myself what "she" would do, "she" being the woman I want to be/the woman who wants to come out of me. How would she deal with these emotions? How would she spend the evening? Sometimes it's very clear to me how this "other person" would behave, and how I can change the course of my day (week/month by handling the situation better).

Of course, I think it's important that this other she is a real person. Not some unrealistic, perfectionized person. You have to feel her realistically inside you. Think about your best days, how it felt. It probably wasn't a perfect day, but it was not so bad, right? Her days are like that too. She in you, listen to her. Imagine how she would do it. Maybe you can't do it exactly how she would, but today maybe you can get close/closer. Sometimes just reminding yourself that you have a choice is enough.

Also, just the fact that it's working some of the time is great! It will probably be only one tool you use, sometimes it's exactly what you need and other times it's something else that will get the effect. Good luck!
posted by hannahelastic at 3:45 PM on January 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

I genuinely did clean up my room last night before I went out and thought, "This is for you, Future Me!" and was so grateful when I came home that I said out loud, "Thanks, Past Me!" I am weird, but this strategy does work in certain circumstances.

But what I've found is that it's not actually super useful to use Future Me as an excuse for doing boring garbage chores that you just have to trudge through to be a functioning adult. It works a lot better when whatever you're doing will give Future You an actual jolt of pleasure that you can anticipate. So, yeah, I cleaned my room, but way more importantly, I made my bed and set up my electric blanket so it was all ready to go, and I put the warm fuzzy slippers I got for Christmas right out where I would want them. So I could look forward to coming home and being happy and cozy even though it's freezing outside - it wasn't like, "Oh, Future Me, look what I did for you - washed two dishes and did a half-assed job of organizing the closet." For those kinds of really dull chores, other mental tricks are necessary (listening to podcasts, giving yourself bribes) - Future Me actually has to enjoy the result of these tasks if the mental trick is going to work.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:48 PM on January 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Another aspect of this is the kindness you extend to friends who fuck up. So, say you indulged in a bad habit. Instead of thinking "future me hurt me deeply by doing X", think of how you'd view a friend doing X: has the friend been working hard towards improvement? You'd almost certainly give your friend all the positive feedback about what she's been doing right, instead of dwelling on her mistakes. For me, that's what viewing myself as a friend is about. We're kinder to friends and able to see the circumstances surrounding their foibles, whereas with ourselves we tend to judge harshly. It's about stepping back and viewing yourself as a whole, not so much about seeing yourself 20 years from now.

It's hard if you feel like you wouldn't want to be friends with yourself, but fake it until you make it. For example, when doing this exercise, I tended to view myself more as my most-loved friend rather than myself. If my BFF was to embark on this journey to stop spending so much money/drinking/etc, I wouldn't tell her that she's so fucked up she might as well not even try, I'd help her plan ways to succeed. Eventually I've been able to see myself as just as worthy as my BFF for this kind of graciousness, but it took awhile.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:07 PM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I try to tell myself what I would tell my child. I want him to be happy and healthy and good to himself. I give myself great advice this way. Maybe you could try to do this too!
posted by Kalmya at 5:16 PM on January 11, 2016

My therapist suggested something similar but slightly different and very helpful. I imagine the FEELING of a good thing happening. i.e. I get a great job that I really enjoy... I don't imagine that scenario, it's too complex, I imagine the feeling of accomplishment, pride, excitement.

It's motivating.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:17 PM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my mind (at least) this quote from Steven Covey is related to your question:

"Habit 2 is based on imagination--the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don't make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. "

I pair that quote with this one:

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
posted by forthright at 6:30 PM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I dunno on this future me thing, but I'm reading "This Is How" by Augusten Burroughs and he points out that in order to quit something, you have to want something else more. For example, he quit drinking by wanting sobriety more. Also, he talks about how you might not want something or other or say or think that you do, and you need to figure out why you don't want something and what's blocking you, or why you want the self-destructive behavior more. I think I'd encourage you to go that route, rather than make up some future you you can't see yet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:20 PM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

What about you think of your future self as a very good friend of yours that you really admire that you tell everything to and that if you go through with your destructive behaviour, you'd have to tell them about this too. How would you like that conversation to go instead?

(Of course as a very good friend, also remember she is also very kind, supportive, and generous towards you.)
posted by like_neon at 1:19 AM on January 12, 2016

This cartoon by the inimitable Tim Krieder pretty much sums up the issue as far as I'm concerned. Especially the panel about the coffee.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:03 PM on January 12, 2016

If you want to concretely visualize your future self, how about a photo-aging app? I think there are ones you can pay for, maybe? Here's one you can use for free. I found it pretty striking to see my aged face, especially since the image gets animated so it moves around a little.
posted by Frenchy67 at 6:42 PM on January 12, 2016

You could help your future self become more "real" and concrete (and therefore more influential) by writing letters back and forth or writing out an imaginary Q&A (or instead of writing, use the empty chair technique to have conversations). Another idea is to create a collage of phrases and images of what this future self embodies.

Other ways to change habits can be explored in Fogg's fascinating and useful behavior model and grid. Here are some links -- feel free to explore or ignore as suits you best. Good luck!
Fogg Behavior Model (diagram)
posted by dancing leaves at 4:37 AM on January 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

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