Artwork by Maruja Mallo, Arquitectura Humana / El Pescador, 1937. Oil on canvas. © The Estate of Maruja Mallo. Courtesy of Ortuzar Projects, New York.
Some people like to think we have two selves, our current self who we have to put up with on a minute-by-minute basis, and our future self, the person waiting in time, which painstakingly metamorphoses as we advance. And it’s suggested that these two selves - your current and future self - are constantly wrestling for supremacy. The palpable larger-than-life self, with well-defined wants, and needs, and a current role to play within the family, workplace, and society-at-large, typically overshadows the poorly defined future self. “Live now,” the current self will say, “don’t live for the future”. Or, “what will come, will come, don’t force it”. Inert and passive, the future self is mostly unresponsive up until the day comes to its close. “You didn’t do anything for me today,” it’ll protest. “All you think about is your current self.”
Do you study all day for an exam, or do you go to the beach with your friends and eat ice cream? Your current self will no doubt petition for the beach because the rewards are gleaming bright - the taste of sugar in the balmy sun. Your future self, in opposition, has to come up with a convincing campaign to prove to your current self why studying and gaining good grades is worth the sacrifice. But when rewards for hard work are so elusive, so arbitrary, so far away, they can become utterly powerless to motivate you.
Called “temptation bundling”, a clever motivational strategy is to pair a long-term goal, like studying, with a short-term reward. You combine studying with dining at your favourite café, for example; you take your dog for a walk while listening to your favourite podcast. It’s an easy strategy to adopt: write out a list of your pleasures, and then pair them with tasks related to your long-term goals. By using bribery, you can stop your current self from putting up such a winning fight. And your future self will thank you.