There is a version of me who spends her free time reading books about philosophy, goes for a run before breakfast, and spends Sunday afternoons meal prepping and cooking for the rest of the week.
There is another version of me who decides that philosophy is boring and that running and cooking are a drag, and instead spends her free time browsing social media.
I recently found out that there’s a technical name for the 2 versions of me. Thomas Schelling, who invented behavioural economics decades before it was cool, labeled the first version as the (farsighted) long-term self, and the second version as the (weak-willed) short-term self.
Essentially the short-term self follows the heart, and sometimes the smell of food. Messages from pop songs are the stark undertones of every statement they speak (‘YOLO’ and ‘Live in the moment’), and they run in random directions with no regard for the bigger picture. The long-term self threads with military discipline, channels the ant in ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’ story, and is branded as ‘intense’ and ‘boring’ and doesn’t like surprises.
All of us are made up of our long-term and short-term selves. Sure, it feels good at the moment to scroll mindlessly through pretty pictures of friends’ beach vacations. But when you look back, you’ll remember that day as much the same as every other lazy day — in fact, you might not even remember it at all.
I think the trick to better life decisions is for your long-term self (when she is briefly in control) to not disregard the short term self – but carefully structure her into your daily schedule. This helps channel our inevitable impulsive actions towards good results. You can cancel your Netflix account and stock your fridge with healthy food options only.
Or if you like your dramatic gestures a little less dramatic, you can schedule in a structured 2 hours to watch your favourite show every week, and squeeze in an extra workout session for every time you treat yourself to a bag of potato chips.
When the time comes to be more productive – ask yourself: Did my long-term self want to do this? And trust that voice.
Because the future you will be glad to have done it.