With vaccines being rolled out and daylight savings coming into play, we’re finally starting to see the light (figuratively and literally). Have a great Monday guys.
On The Other Side
One of the struggles of life is the tension between what we know we should be doing, and what we actually want to do. We know we should work out, but what we want to do is see how many Salt & Pepper Miss Vickies we can eat before realizing we’ve even opened the bag. We know we should be reading the latest Bill Gates books, but what we want to do is catch up on the latest Tik Tok feuds. Today, we talk about how to overcome this rivalry between should and want, and why it exists in the first place.
Laura Vanderkam, a notable writer, author, and speaker on the topics of work-life balance, time management, and productivity, helps us (less-accomplished) beat the lazy self out of us. Her mental trick is as simple as picturing ourselves on the other side of any hard choice.
Let’s look at an example. If you’ve been planning tomorrow’s sunrise hike for weeks, but the thought of climbing up a cold mountain at the crack of dawn makes you debate clicking “set alarm”, you’ll probably hit snooze. Instead, picture the ending moment of the hike, filled with rosy cheeks and the joyous feeling of accomplishment.
From experience, we know we’ll always feel this good after a hike, so wisdom is picturing this feeling before it happens.
But, we humans are not very good at picturing our future selves, and that’s probably why we aren’t very good at making decisions that our future selves will thank us for. It’s why we binge an entire season before bed and don’t save up for retirement. In fact, when we think about our future selves, it activates the same part of our brain as thinking about a stranger.
As Laura Vanderkam says, “This is really discipline in a nutshell. By picturing ourselves on the other side, we don’t have to choose what is immediately easy.”
Using a computer program capable of aging people’s photographs, social psychologist Hershfield showed participants vivid aged images of themselves. After seeing their aged photo, they were willing to allocate twice as much money to a hypothetical long-term savings account. Merill Lynch opportunistically used this research and created “Face Retirement”, an online way to age their customers in an attempt to have them save more. This tells us that if we get better at picturing our future selves, maybe we’ll do a better job of protecting them more from our current selves.
Duel of the Dual Selves
Daniel Kahneman, psychology researcher, explains how happiness is defined differently between our two selves: the experiencing self and the remembering self.
The experiencing self: What you do and feel right now.
The remembering self: Thinking about what you’ve done in the past; memories.
Defining what ‘happiness’ looks like to our two personalities can get tricky. If you asked your experiencing self, “how happy are you?”, you would answer based on how pleased you are at that specific moment. But, your remembering self would answer based on how satisfied you were with your life and past decisions up until that point. See, they can be very different answers.
This creates a constant rivalry between our two ‘selves’. They are satisfied in different ways, they can’t always both be happy. Often, you have to choose which one to favor. Think about how you would plan a vacation for the experiencing self. Now, think about how you would plan one for the remembering self. Very different, right? No one would choose to get locked out of their hostel and sleep outside for the night, but it makes for a great memory. The remembering self would loooove that one.
I‘ll Never Let Go, Jack
The remembering self also likes to hold more weight to the ending of experiences in our memory. Take the example of a great movie with a horrible ending. Let’s use a completely random, arbitrary, micro-budget movie, say…Titanic. You’re sitting in the theatre, enjoying every second that Jack shootsRose a smile. You’re engulfed by this captivating, moving love tale. But, then you become upset, annoyed, angry at such an awful ending. Now, you leave the theatre thinking that the whole experience is ruined. Even though you enjoyed the first 260 minutes of it, it means nothing now that the ending has left you sour.
But, the dual selves would say that no, the experience is not ruined, the memory of the experience is ruined.And, since endings hold greater weight to memories than the rest of the experience, you’ll never forget that there was enough room on the raft for both Jack and Rose to fit. The ending of our stories will dictate how we believe the experience went, even though that wasn’t necessarily the reality.
If this is the case, then we should attempt to make the ending of our experiences as pleasurable as possible. If we do that, when asked if we are ‘happy’, we will look back at our life and be satisfied with it.
A way to make the remembering self happy is to finish a not-so-fun activity with a more pleasant one. For example, a workout. At the end of it, take a minute or two to think about the experience. Lie down, enjoy the feeling of your heart racing, and most importantly, the feeling of being done. Soak it in. That way, hopefully, you’ll remember your workout as being great.
No, Vicky, No
Let’s bring it full circle. We know we should be working out, but, Miss Vickies can be too hard to say no to. But, what if we thought about the duality of the self before making the decision to stuff our faces? What would the remembering self want? It would want you to work out because although you may not enjoy the experience, you will feel amazing at the end of the workout, and this is what the remembering self will look back on most. (And we can almost guarantee, you won’t feel so dandy after those Miss Vickies).
Since we couldn’t have said it better than Laura Venderkam: “The only solution to this constant happiness dilemma is to picture yourself on the other side. If you’re excited about doing something, most likely you’ll be happy to have done it. You just have to go through a short time of something challenging to emerge to this happy state.”
Jerry Seinfeldmay have been the first to explore the duality of the selves. Listen to his “Night Guy” bit.
Listen to the man himself, Daniel Kahneman, talk about the remembering vs. experiencing selves in his Ted Talk.
Get your scuba gear on and read Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, which explores the dichotomy of our two modes of thought: instinctive and emotional.
“With a lot of these behaviours and goals, it’s really easy to ‘exceptionalize’ the present,” he explained. “It’s easy to say, ‘I had a hard day—seven meetings this morning —so I deserve to eat this cookie.’ If each day is that way, you’ll never get to the point where you are on track to achieve what you want. We’re hoping that we can help people see that everything they do right now is part of a larger picture that includes their future self.”
– Hal Hershfield, associate professor of psychology at UCLA
We can already picture it. You, sitting with your THS sticker, hat, sweater while completing on your personalized habit plan. Share your unique referral link below with friends. Your future self will thank you.