June 15, 2000
Dear 35-year-old Heat,
I’ve finally admitted to myself something that I’ve been denying or avoiding for a long time: I’m fat, and I’m rapidly getting fatter. I’m 70 pounds heavier than I was when I graduated high school just 7 years ago.
I could blame it on genetics, Heat. Mom is fat. Dad is fat. Their siblings and parents are/were all fat.
But blaming it on genetics only allows me to continue to live in denial. They were all slender in their youths—they just didn’t (and still don’t) take care of themselves. I’m strong enough that I can look at this face-to-face and own it.
It’s my fault I’m fat.
Heat, I decided today that I’m going to eat less ice cream. I hope this sounds ridiculous to you, but I’m going to limit myself to one serving every day. It’s going to be hard. I’m not even worried yet about how much is in one serving. But my eating habits are out of control, and this seems like a good place to start.
I’m doing this for you, Heat. In the here and now, I just want to eat. But—thanks to the generations in front of me—I see what that does. I don’t want that to be my story, too, but the only way to stop it is to start to change now. It doesn’t happen overnight.
I know you’ll appreciate this change. I hope that you’ll pay it forward to 45-year-old Heat.
You’re looking at a dessert menu, deciding whether or not to order dessert. Do you defer to yourself right now, someone you know, someone who is here right now? Or do you honor yourself in the future, someone who is a stranger, someone who’s not sitting at the table with you?
As it turns out, it’s easy to ignore our future selves because they’re strangers. And because they’re not here right now.
A few little studies have popped up—all in the realm of personal finance, but I believe they still apply.
What the studies found was that people who felt more connected to their future selves were more likely to make decisions that benefitted their future selves. People who felt disconnected from their future were more likely to give in to immediate desires.
You can read about those here and here, or watch a great TED talks about it here and here. (That second one is about how language affects future-oriented behavior. I thought it was fascinating!)
What does that have to do with health and wellness?
What you eat has an effect on you … later.
How much you exercise, and at what intensity, and for how long, all affect you. Later.
So how can you become better-connected with your future self to help you make better decisions now?
Well, you can use the website referenced in this article (also linked above) to get a picture of yourself down the line. Or if you have a vivid imagination (or strong family resemblances), use your imagination.
Once you have a picture, either in front of you or in your mind, get to know that person a little. What do they like? What are their values? What are their struggles? What are their fears? Do you feel acquainted?
For me, it’s the struggles and fears that really motivate me now.
I’ve been through chemo, so I know what kind of toll that takes on a young, healthy body. It can only be worse on an older and/or less healthy body.
I see friends, relatives, coworkers struggle against chronic disease. I’ve seen them go through massive surgeries to try to repair themselves.
I don’t know what the life expectancy is of healthy people in my family. No one in my parents’ generation or their parents’ generation have taken care of themselves. One side of the family is littered with auto-immune disorders; the other has a solid disposition to heart disease.
My past self was ever indulgent. Fortunately, a more recent past self decided it was time to do something and did it. And most of the selves in between kept at it. (And the ones who didn’t keep at it have not done too much damage.)
I know a few people who have journals that they are going to pass onto their kids when their kids get older. They are writing down milestones, things the kids do, etc.
You could do this for your older self as well. Keep a little journal, and tell older you what you did for them today. Tell them why you did it and how it made you feel.
Connecting all of this to emotions will make the experience—and the results—more powerful.
Is the path you’re on now taking you in the direction you want to go? Is your future self at the destination you want?
Do what you can to align with Future You. You’ll be glad you did.
You’re bound to your future self. You can’t escape her. You can alter what she looks like, what she feels like, what her situation is like. What can you do to make her happy? To make YOU happy?
Are you going to try to envision your future self to instigate change? (It’s a little scary, isn’t it? All the more reason to do it!)