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Future Self and Present You - A Happy Seed

Posted by Zoe Smiles on


"Do something today that your future self will thank you for."

- Sean Patrick Flannery


The Basic IDEA

You of today is the only one who can show up for you of tomorrow. 

-Zoe Smiles


  Digging Deeper

How often do you think about yourself 5 years in the future? 20 years in the future? 40 years? Last year, I had a short trip to the San Jose airport with a lovely, older gentleman as my Uber driver. He asked me to promise that I would gaze at myself in the mirror every morning, remember one day I may be blessed to turn 80, and that Zoe of the present had to look out for 80 year old Zoe of the future.

I haven’t made the mirror gazing habit part of my routine but the concept of Future Self came up again recently while watching a series on PBS called, “A Brief History of the Future”.

In it, I learned about a study recording the brain activity of subjects when considering their current selves, future selves, and strangers. It turns out when you think of your present self, the you of today, one part of your brain has heavy activity.

Then, when you think of your future self, a different part of your brain is activated and it’s the same section of your brain that lights up when you are asked to think of a stranger.

Why is this so important?

Well, we may feel empathy, kinship, or duty to strangers for a moment but it’s not a feeling we can consistently or responsibly maintain for long periods of time. Every time we see a stranger in need, we can’t act, nor can we prioritize a stranger’s well being over our own needs or the necessities of those we love.

If our future self is considered a stranger by our own brain, then it’s so easy to prioritize what’s simple for us in the moment and overlook the choice that may be best for that “strange” us down the road.

To approach this dilemma, instead of making my future self a stranger, I started thinking of 80 year old Zoe as a best friend who I’ll finally get to meet in 57 years. I know her well already, and I’ll get to know her even more as I grow older. I think about her all the time, ask her what she wants to do and how she wants to feel.

And on a certain level this concept rings true. My future self is my best friend because my current self is my best friend and I plan on keeping that friendship blooming. My body is the same body I’ll have for my entire life. Some parts may change or get replaced but most of this stuff will be with me until the day I die. So will my habits, thought patterns, and lifestyle choices, unless I decide to do something different now.

BFF Zoe of 33 has to look out for her BFF Zoe of 80. They are two similar people with very different needs and my choices should be kind to both of them.

Thinking of yourself so far into the future is hard. Start with a year older, a few months older, or even two weeks older. You can always progress as you get more comfortable with the concept. What would you two weeks from now want to feel like? Now, here’s the key, how do you allow you of today to honor you of tomorrow, so you can show up for you two weeks from now?

Take time to really think about you and not just the you of this moment but you of the future.

On another note, this inability to show up for all the strangers outside of our little circles used to bother me immensely. How can we go on existing while there is suffering at our doorstep?

Now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to manage the feeling by realizing my two hands do what they can do while knowing there are other people acting on what they can contribute too.

I see the 100 faces in need, and I have the capacity to uplift 2. When I am in need, I become one of the 100 faces and I have been fortunate enough to encounter those who uplifted me. We are a village, even when it’s filled with a million strange faces, and it takes a village to nurture one human well.

Hopefully, more of us chip in than not and eventually we can leave a world behind that is better than the one we were born in. Don’t feel overpowered because you can’t do more. Be empowered because you can help at least one. And one makes a difference.


Two Things for You to Try This Week

1. Consider what you want your older years to look like. See yourself 20 years from now. Think about the subject concretely. How do you want to look, what do you want to feel like mentally and emotionally, where would you like to live, what relationships do you want to have in your future? If anything major sticks out to you, write it down. Those major points are where you’ll want to put more effort in growing.


2. Write down a daily goal and at the beginning of every week, write down a weekly goal. I do this consistently and it’s helped me work on my “future self” muscle. Your daily goal can be as simple as taking out the garbage. What’s important is the action of setting aside time to consider a present action that makes life easier for your future self. Eventually, you’ll naturally start prioritizing actions that make present you AND future you happy.

A Quick Note from Zoe

Welcome to The Happy Seeds, my new weekly newsletter.
Every Monday morning, I will send you one quote to read, a thought message, and one or two suggested action steps to take at some point during the week.
It's our job to help each other plant happy seeds. This newsletter is a happy seed from my garden which I hope will flower into ever-deepening happiness in your own garden. A newsletter is something different for me. It may work and it may not.
I'd love to hear back from you! Email me if the perspective or action steps help. Did something good come out of this week?
The goal is to offer my email community a happy perspective to look forward to and some creative opportunities for you to add joy to your week.
It's easy for me to get caught up in the day to day and I've learned happiness is a muscle. You have to BUILD and then MAINTAIN a happy mindset.
I regularly meet people who want to know "How are you so happy? How can you have this perspective when life is so challenging?" - what I share in this newsletter is the answer.
If the content or action steps in this email make an impact on you this week - whether it's as simple as re-watching your favorite show series, as joyful as connecting with an old friend from 2012 or as big as finally having the opportunity to go skydiving, please reply to this email and let me know.
Talk to you next week,