Instead of getting down on yourself for everything you haven’t done or yelling at yourself about what you “should” do, try thinking about your future self and doing something for him/her.
It’s a simple yet effective motivational trick that Wil Wheaton found helpful to cope with his anxiety and depression:
I’ve often given joking apologies to Future Wil for eating too much spicy food, or staying up too late, but I never really thought of Future Wil as someone who existed, who was a person, who was depending on Present Wil to make his life a little easier.
Even if you’re not depressed, motivation is a struggle for lots of us. We can’t find enough energy, we’re afraid of failing, or we just don’t feel like doing a lot of the things that would be good for us. Often this lack of energy and motivation translates into a lack of action that makes life harder for us down the road.
For example, if I lay out my clothes, program the coffee maker, and prep lunches the night before, I’ll benefit the next day by having a less stressful morning.
If I go to the gym, I might benefit in 30 minutes by being in a better mood or in 30 days by losing weight or in 30 years by avoiding health problems.
We all know that getting organized, exercising, doing our homework, and saving money aren’t just good for us, but will improve our quality of life in the future. So why isn’t it easier to do them?
Be kind to your future self
Self-compassion doesn’t come easily or naturally for most people I know. While we’re great at giving empathy and taking care of others, many of us are lousy at being nice to ourselves. We’ve been conditioned to do for others and to put ourselves last. So on some level we may not feel we’re worth the effort.
Your unconscious thinking might be “why bother taking care of my health, I’m not worth spending the time and money on?” or “I’m not going to prep for tomorrow. That’s a lot of work and my husband should be helping. Obviously he doesn’t care about me since he leaves me to deal with the morning craziness.”
Sometimes it’s easier to be kind to an abstract future version of ourselves than to be kind to ourselves in this very moment. It’s as if we can imagine our future self as someone else.
A longer-term goal to develop more self-compassion is a great idea, but this motivational trick can help in the meantime. It’s time to start caring about ourselves and recognizing that we’re the only ones who can make our lives happier and healthier.
It’s easy to fall into bad habits
I think it’s only natural to want to do what feels good right now. It obviously takes more effort to go to the gym than it does to stay parked on the sofa. We have to work against these natural inclinations to seek pleasure in the moment and follow the path of least resistance.
But motivation is a tricky thing. If you wait until you feel motivated before you take action, you may be waiting a long, long time. It’s very hard to spontaneously increase your motivation. Action actually creates motivation. This is why we need to “trick” ourselves into doing some of what’s good for us even when we don’t feel motivated. The feelings of motivation will come the more we take action.
What are the things you avoid, put off, or lack motivation for?
How will your future self benefit by you doing these things today?
Can you do something today to help yourself out in the future?
You could be looking for the motivation to eat only one cookie, go to the dentist, get to bed earlier, or start saving for retirement. The possibilities are endless of the things that you can do to help yourself out in the future.
They may not be enjoyable in the moment, but your future self with thank you.
This piece first appeared on Sharon’s PsychCentral Blog.