So you’ve done it. This is the time for new beginnings. Against all rational advice, your to-do list for this year includes over a dozen books, enough exercise to exhaust an Olympic athlete, and enough good deeds to make Mother Theresa feel selfish.
You look proudly at your list, and visualize yourself at the end of the year, modestly accepting the prize for Good Deeds for 2015 as you sport your now spectacular abs, delivering a powerfully emotional speech that touches the very soul of everyone listening.
Odds, however, are that this will probably not happen, but if it does, I expect to be invited to your acceptance speech.
You tell yourself that you have decided that you now know where you want to go, and you have visualized reaching that stage, but there is something that we often overlook; we fail to consider where we stand and who we are today compared to this hypothetical future version of ourselves who is at the end of the road we have yet to tread.
And therein lies the problem: It is not uncommon for us to look at that future version of us as if they were a stranger entirely separate from ourselves, which is reflected in our tendency to postpone the more difficult tasks to later because we tend to think of the person who will have to deal with them as someone else.
It is at this stage that overthinking and visualization come in; visualizing your goals helps give your brain a simulated feeling of accomplishment (but you know that because you have read our December issue), which reduces your drive to actually go out and attempt to accomplish them. Overthinking helps sustain the illusion that you are working towards achieving your goals, without actually having to exert any effort in their regard; it is like refusing to begin building an apartment complex because you are still considering what color curtains you will eventually install.
Overthinking irrelevant details (color of the curtains), without seriously considering how to actually accomplish your goal (apartment complex) only serves to delay your taking any actual, proactive steps towards accomplishing your goal; when you visualize yourself, it is usually at the end of your journey with your goals completed (standing there in front of a completed apartment complex, considering what color the curtains should be).
Qui Sum I?
That’s Latin for “Who Am I?” because one of my resolutions many years back was to attempt to learn Latin, which of course I didn’t go through with, but that left me with a few phrases that pop up sometimes when I sit in front of a keyboard.
We all know that the next question that pops up at this stage is “What is the next step?” but what we rarely consider is who it is that is doing the asking, and who it is we expect to go through the difficulties necessary to achieve our goals. If we fall into the trap of thinking of future selves as an separate entity (which studies from the universities of Stanford, New York, and Princeton say we do), not only do we tend to postpone the more dreary tasks to later, but we will also more likely raise the bar beyond what we would if we thought of future self as the same person we are today.
The assumption inside our brains is that the person who will have to deal with the problem will somehow be different from us today; we assume that they will not mind doing the dreary task that we are avoiding like an angry beehive. The assumption is wrong; if you do not want to do the task now, you will likely not be any more enthusiastic to engage in the task in the future because it is still you who has to do the task, even if it is future you.
Just Do It!
If you finally accept the idea that current you and future you are in fact the same person, and you still want to go through what you need to go through to get to reach your goal, you will probably try to plan your every step and think of everything down to the last detail, down to the color of the curtains. Stop it; after all ‘it is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of acting. (Jerry Sternin, The Power of Positive Deviance)
Remember Jaime Foxx’s character ‘Max’ from the movie Collateral (can you believe that it has been ten years)? How he had the idyllic picture of his dream beach on his sun visor, and visualized his goal of owning a limousine company? And how he did precisely nothing else towards either of those goals? It turns out that Vincent (Tom Cruise’s less than friendly character) was right; all it ever took was a down payment on a Lincoln Town Car. All it ever took was the first step. You don’t have to map out every detail of your path in order to take the first step.
So until you actually take that first step, until the you of today decides that you will take the responsibility instead of trying to pin it on someone else (future you in this case), who will likely do the same thing, further perpetuating the cycle, things will not change. After all, all it takes is a down payment on a Lincoln town car, right?