A few years ago, Sue and I were watching the Pete Holmes Show. In the opening monologue, he talked about how “doing chores was doing a favor for your future self.” While it wasn’t a concept that was hard to grasp, the truth of that simple statement resonated with us both.
My go-to joke about procrastination usually sounds something like, “why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” While the immediate gratification of “not doing something today” is real, it inevitably leads to some sucky tomorrows as the proverbial can keeps getting kicked down the road. A surprise to no one, this practice of inaction leads to overwhelming mountains. Mountains that, if only Pete’s advice to do a favor for our future self was followed, would have never been formed in the first place.
I was reminded of this just the other day when the following blog post from Seth Godin came into my inbox:
And it always does.
Bad decisions happen for one of two reasons:
- You’re in a huge hurry and you can’t process all the incoming properly. But more common…
- The repercussions of your decision won’t happen for months or years. This is why we don’t save for retirement, don’t pay attention to long-term environmental issues, and, tragically, tolerate (or fall prey to) irrational rants about things like vaccines. It might be engaging or soothing to promote a palliative idea now, but years later, when innocent kids are sick and dying, the regrets are real.
A bad decision isn’t only bad because we’re uninformed or dumb. It can be bad because we are swayed by short-term comfort and ignore long-term implications. A bad decision feels good in the short run, the heartfelt decision of someone who means well. But there’s a gap when we get to the long run.
Eula Biss has written a beautiful, honest book about this gap. About how we can fall into the trap of being well-meaning, emotional and loud in the short run, but how the truth of time changes the way we see things.
Our job as leaders (and we all are, in our own way) is to elevate the long run on behalf of those we care about, regardless how hard the marketing and tribal noise around us encourages us to fall prey to instant comfort.
Everyone has feelings and opinions, but the future ignores them.
As Seth points out, being good to our future selves isn’t just a benefit to our future selves. As a small business owner, my ultimate job should be an effort to elevate our services and offerings for the benefit of our clients. In other words, as small business owners, it is our job to create true and meaningful value for their benefit.
Some days I do better than others in this regard. There are things I know that need to get done but I drag my feet because they will be too hard, too complicated, or there is a boring task waiting that I don’t want to get bogged down by. But the truth of the matter is that by putting these things off I am only hurting my business’s future self. My hope is that the efforts I put in today will have a lasting impact of value for our clients tomorrow.
As a result, if this work is done with purpose and is done well, our clients’ businesses will see improved results. They will be happy customers who we can continue to build a mutually beneficial relationship with. They will be happy customers who may even recommend us to others if we have earned their trust.
Author, Brené Brown, writes, “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort. It’s choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. It’s choosing to practice your values rather than simply professing them.”
This idea challenges us to not take the easy way out. No one likes going outside of their warm and cozy comfort zone (that’s why it’s called a comfort zone). So, it’s difficult, yes, but this is what gives us the ability to better live our future selves’ lives in a way that is unencumbered by the hooks and pitfalls left behind by our ever-neglectful, present selves.
Finally, secret #4 from an online Forbes article titled, “15 Surprising Things Productive People Do Differently,” reads:
Secret #4: They beat procrastination with time travel.
Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are “time inconsistent.” We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week; then we throw out green rotting mush in the future. I bought P90x because I think I’m going to start exercising vigorously and yet the box sits unopened one year later. What can you do now to make sure your future self does the right thing? Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future, and come up with a solution to defeat your future self.
I agree with the idea that our future selves cannot be trusted. I agree with that because unless we change our present selves and our current behavior of procrastinating, our future selves will continue to be just like our unenthused present selves. We will be doomed to keep repeating the past. The solution to defeat your procrastinating future self can only start with doing the “chores” that need to be done today. Take those chores off your future self’s plate so there is more room, more time and more energy to better do the new chores that tomorrow will inevitably bring.
I hate the phrase, “eat the frog first,” probably because most people who have admonished me to do so are often the last to take this advice for themselves and eating frogs is not something I find appetizing. However, the sentiment behind the phrase is well intended. That is, to first do the things that you least want to do. If we can take a few moments and honestly reflect on those important tasks that we tend to avoid, we can name them, call them out and mindfully recognize them as problem points that need to be addressed to make for a better tomorrow.
The hope here is that rather than being admonished by these writings and ideas, we can be encouraged by them. We can be encouraged because we see and understand the value in being good to our future selves. We can know and understand that this value is not just realized by our future selves, it will also have a positive impact on the lives of those we care about. If we want to have a better tomorrow the first thing to do is put in the effort today. Oh, and it doesn’t have to be about eating frogs first. It can be done as a favor and a form of kindness to our future selves.