Think of yourself as three people in one.
- Your Past Self is who you used to be. Every action you have taken is in the past.
- Your Future Self is who you want to become. You have hopes, dreams, and ambitions for the life your Future Self is going to live.
- Your Present Self is who you are today. Your Future and Past Selfs are constantly in flux, and you’re why.
Ideally, all three of you are on the same page. That often isn’t the case. There can be a lot of tension between our Past, Present, and Future Selfs. That tension limits our potential and makes us miserable.
Here are three house rules you can establish to quit the bickering and get your Past, Present, and Future Selfs to work together.
Rule 1: Don’t blame your Past Self for everything wrong in your life.
I get it. Your Past Self was kind of awkward. You didn’t know anything, and there are so many things you’d do differently now.
Don’t worry about it. Everyone was an awkward teenager. We were still figuring things out. We still are.
While the events of the past are fixed, they’re open to interpretation. Yes, the past is full of awkward, embarrassing, and painful experiences. Some of them happen to everyone; some of them shouldn’t happen to anyone. They’re facts. They happened. Now we can choose how we interpret those facts and move forward.
It’s very disempowering to assign responsibility for everything that’s wrong with your life to anyone else, even your Past Self. If they got you into it, they’re the only one who can get you out. Your Past Self can’t take action. Only your Present Self can take action.
If you don’t like a choice made by a previous Present Self, make another one.
Rule 2: Don’t hang all your hopes for the future on your Future Self.
We may not like where things are today, but the future is going to be awesome, right?
We’ll get to bed earlier tonight. We won’t snap at our kids tomorrow. We’ll have more time to take walks next week. We’ll be making more money next year. When we live in a nicer house with a bigger yard with an outdoor kitchen, then we can invite people over for dinner and build some lasting friendships.
Our Future Self is going to be living the life! Or they certainly could be.
You can see where your Past Self’s decisions have gotten you. If you like the direction you’re heading, keep it up. If not, start making adjustments.
Find ways to set your Future Self up for success. Put the reusable shopping bags in the car so you don’t forget them when you head out running errands tomorrow. Sign up for a painting class. Set your morning alarm to go off 15 minutes earlier. Increase your 401(k) contributions by 1%. Listen attentively when your son wants to give you the VIP tour of the empire he built across the living room from LEGOs, wooden blocks, and couch cushions.
Some days, the adjustments you make to shape your future reality are going to be big, and you’ll know they’re going to have an impact. Those days are few and far between. Most days, the adjustments are imperceptibly small. You’re going to wonder if you’re making a difference. Those are the days you have to trust that your Past Self as set you on the right course.
You can think of those days as being normal.
Rule 3: Don’t let your past sabotage your future.
If we compare our Past Self to our Future Self, our Past Self can be kind of skittish. Our Past Self was awkward and didn’t know anything. Our Future Self is sophisticated and has everything figured out.
Our Past Self knows us very well. They know what we’re capable of. They made us who we are. They built us up and they know exactly how to take us down. If our Past Self gets spooked, they can start feeding Fear inside information to get us to back off on these ambitious plans.
Our Present Self has to reassure our Past Self that everything’s under control. Five years ago, we didn’t have the skills and resources to live the life we’re living now. We weren’t ready then. We aren’t ready now to live the life we’re going to live five years from now. “But here’s what I’m doing to get us ready…”
Your Past Self should be intimidated by your plans for the future. If you think about it, you were probably once intimidated by the thought of the life you’re living now, but here you are. You made it.
Even your Present Self should be a little nervous looking forward. It means you’re setting risky goals. It’s exciting, isn’t it?
You are capable of change. Your Present Self—you, the one reading this—has the responsibility to act, to bridge the gap between who you were and who you want to be.
All of this comes down to what we’re going to do today. Today is when we decide to act on our ideas for the future. Today is when we turn ideas into memories instead of letting those ideas lapse into regrets.