In today’s episode, Anna explores the challenge of managing the battle between your present and future self.
The best way to be more disciplined – or, in fact, not need to be more disciplined – is to create a habit. Now, of course, when you try to implement new priorities, new routines, there will always be some resistance, and will take time to make it into an unquestionable habit. But once you do that, it’s easy!
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
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Hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast, as we look at how to be more disciplined, and specifically I want to talk about the battle between our present and future self. Now, if you’ve been listening for a while, then you can cast your minds back to episode 40, not so long ago, and when I was talking about how to stay motivated through the ups and downs of daily life. So if this is a topic that interests you, I’d encourage you to either go back and re-listen, or if you’re new to the podcast, then do by all means go and find that episode 40. You can just Google it and you should find it. Or of course, just scroll back in the podcast app that you happen to be using.
So motivation, it’s such an important topic and I am such a geek on these things. I read so many books. I’m reading a book at the moment about starting small. As you know, my brand is called One Step Outside and I’m all about taking little steps day by day, whether it’s in life changing action that we’re taking or working on our business, showing up consistently and taking little steps is going to make such a massive difference rather than, I don’t know, going to an amazing inspirational conference one weekend, getting all excited and motivated, and then that inevitably fizzles out and you’re left with the drudgery of day-to-day action, and that’s not as sexy anymore and so we stopped doing it and we forget all about it. It’s also tied to the idea and the inefficacy, I guess, of New Year’s resolutions that some other episodes you can listen to, if you go back to January, when I was talking about how you can set more effective intentions and really get clear on your why for the year rather than just setting these goals that really don’t matter so much.
So really important topic. Again, I geek out on these things. Hopefully you do too. But it’s something I often hear from clients saying, “Oh, I’m just not motivated. I’m not disciplined enough.” So discipline specifically rather than motivation as such. And let’s be honest, I’m going to be a bit harsh here, I really see this as a bit of an excuse. It’s a bit of a label that we give ourselves. I’ve spoken before about how I used to say, “Oh, I’m a Libra, so I can’t make decisions.” And it’s very easy just to sort of disregard it or give yourself that out, I suppose, and say, “Oh no, I’m introverted, so I can’t do that. Oh, I’m not good at this. I’m not a sales person. I’m not an entrepreneurial person so I can’t start a business. I’m not disciplined.” And you just leave it at that. Yeah, I’m a bit chaotic and disorganised and I’m never going to get anything done.
Now, by all means, if that’s the belief you want to own about yourself, if that’s something you want to continue with, and if you’re happy with the results you’re getting, then embrace the inner slob, be a non-disciplined person, and that’s absolutely fine. However, the fact that you’re listening to the podcast suggests to me that probably that’s not where you want to be. And look, you’re not in any way probably, if you are listening to this, the kind of person who is just sitting around and doing nothing. So first of all, I’d want you to encourage or at least reflect on yourself and recognise that you know what, you’re probably doing a hell of a lot, so stop being so hard on yourself. However, if you want to do more, or be focused, or there’s something you want to do that you’re not quite achieving, let’s dig into that.
And I think the danger is that we wait around for motivation or inspiration to hit, and that’s just not the way it works.
But let’s look at something, and specifically I mentioned I want to look at the battle between our present and future self. Now this is something, as I was digging into, I rediscovered a TED Talk, there’s always a TED Talk on these things, by Daniel Goldstein, specifically on the battle between our present and future self. So do have a watch of that if you’d like to dig more into this, but I’ll give you some of the highlights today. But if you haven’t heard of this before, it’s really the idea that you have, of course, one self, which is you today, the present self, very much present, very much in control of what you’re doing today, and then there’s future self. But to be honest, there are many future selves. I mean there’s my future self tomorrow, this weekend, next week, next year, when I’m old and grey, and so on. Well I’m getting quite grey already so that’s already me. That’s the present self. But there’s many versions of the future self.
And I’ve always been a fan of these, as a parenthesis, these sort of parallel universe kinds of worlds and theories of if I make this one decision then that sort of splits off, branches off into different possibilities, sliding doors kind of concept, in which case there are many, many, many versions of my future self. However, just to illustrate this present self versus future self debate, battle, struggle, as an example, do I stay in bed now this morning? Lazy present self. Or do I get up and do a hit session? That’s my fit and healthy future self. Do I buy this handbag, or do I invest my money? Do I save for my pension? Do I save for a rainy day? And so on. Do I watch Netflix this evening or do I work on my book?
So you can see how, and probably these are quite familiar struggles with yourself, and they’re not necessarily massive things. Some are more important than others. Netflix or working on your book, it’s up to you. If this book is something that’s really important to you and meaningful for you. If you just want to have a relaxing evening, that’s absolutely fine. Obviously there are lots of articles being written on the fact that we’re not, and especially as business owners, perhaps putting enough money aside for our pensions and so on, so maybe that’s a bit more of a concern. Being fit and healthy is really important, so if we’re constantly choosing the doughnutand the lying in bed rather than the exercise and healthy eating, of course that can be an issue too. But really up to us how we weight or how we value what we’re doing now and what we do in the future.
However, the problem is that we put a much heavier weighting on today, on that present self, than we do in the future.
So for a couple of reasons. First, I think fundamentally, as human beings, human nature is that we favour pleasure over pain. So you know what? If I can choose between staying in bed on a cold and frosty morning or going out for a run, what do you think I’m going to choose if I actually give myself the option? If I can choose between having this delicious cake, it’s just one little piece of cake today, I’ll be healthy again tomorrow, then of course it’s very easy to say yes to the cake now.
A perfect illustration of this is a child, I think. If you imagine a toddler, or a pretty old child, I think, probably, if you say, “Okay you can have the ice cream now, but that means you can’t have dessert this evening,” they’re totally not going to get that. They can say yep to ice cream now but they’re pretty much also going to want dessert later because they don’t understand this future self at all. So I think to some extent we still have that inner child very much present in ourselves that we see the immediate gratification and we don’t want to put that on hold for the future. So first of all I think it’s innate, and that hopefully takes a bit of pressure off. You know what?, For a lot of us human beings, we’re by definition by nature, very much going to favour pleasure over pain, warmth over cold, relaxation over stress, and so on.
The second piece, and I’ve hinted at this a little bit, is the unequal battle that’s going on because the present self is very much present, very strong and in control, as I said.
And the future self is a very distant theoretical self. So whether it’s smoking is probably a good example. If you ever smoked, it’s easy to, in a theoretical world, know that smoking is bad for you. But if you are a smoker it’s maybe much harder, and I always find this quite shocking, even with the pictures of the rotting lungs, and impotence and whatever it is, dying foetuses and all these awful things on the cigarette pack, you’re still putting your own pleasure, or in this case also addiction, let’s face it, ahead of this theoretical self.
If somebody could take you in a time machine into the future and show you there being fat, unhealthy, or worse, dead in the future as a result of your actions today, or living on the streets because you haven’t saved a pension, or really unhappy in your job because you haven’t taken the steps to upskill and to change your career, and build new business, and so on, that would probably be really helpful. Unfortunately, there isn’t a time machine yet, so it’s all very theoretical. And a couple of solutions, and in fact again, Daniel Goldstein in the pod- … the TED Talk, sorry, talks about the commitment device, which is, for example, I might make a public announcement, “Hey, this is what I’m going to do,” and maybe pay a forfeit, if I don’t do X then I need to pay my partner £10 every week that I don’t exercise, or in one case the book I was reading somebody said, “I’m going to give my annual salary to somebody,” which is pretty a drastic measure.
Or you might throw out all the unhealthy food in your house so there’s nothing there, so there’s nothing to tempt you. Or of course a big one, and we talk about this a lot in sort of coaching, is having an accountability partner. So in a group programme you might have an accountability partner who’s helping you out. However, this is only really a short term solution, and in a way I think I agree with Daniel Goldstein on this one, that you’re not really trusting yourself. You’re relying on someone else and, let’s face it, whenever that’s happened, you feel a little bit resentful about that person, right? It’s never helpful when your partner says, “Oh, remember you’re on that diet.” It’s a bit insulting and you get quite annoyed, if you’re anything like me.
I remember an example, and if you’re listening to this, by the way, you know who you are, but one of my friends I was living with many years ago, she asked me to hold her accountable to eating healthily, and I’m sure we tried this, both of us, many times. She was quite short, and we were living together. She asked me to put her chocolate in a box on top of the fridge or whatever it was. Now, of course, very quickly she said, “Oh, bring it down. I want it.” And she got very, very angry with me when I said I wasn’t going to do it. Again, in the TED Talk, Daniel Goldstein talks about the Odyssey. I was always a massive fan, still am, of Greek mythology, find it fascinating.
And he talks about Odysseus using the commitment device of tying himself to the mast on the boat, so he goes between the Scylla and Charybdis, I think they’re called, and there are these sirens who are singing beautifully. And if you hear these voices, it is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard, but then you’ve got to throw yourself into the sea and you’ll drown. He wants to hear them so he gets all the other guys on the boat, the sailors, to put wax in their ears so they can’t hear the sirens. He gets them to tie him to the mast. And then he says, “Whatever I say, even if I beg you, or shout at you, whatever, curse at you, don’t let me at those sirens,” because he knows that the pleasure of hearing the voices is unfortunately going to badly for him in very violent and painful death.
So that was a very effective commitment device that worked for a one-off, but I think for sort of ongoing, longer term implementation and really taking on board and, and I’ll talk about this in a moment, making these things a habit, really internalising, is the word I’m after, internalising these important habits, and routines, and so on. I think that’s something that we can do and need to do by ourselves. Now that’s not to say that we can’t have help. However, in my coaching, as much as I’m happy to check in with you after a week and say, “Hey, how are you getting on with this?” it’s very much up to you whether or not you do that. And I won’t be able to … As much as we can work together for a 12 month programme, 3 years, I’ve had clients who come back to me and we work for longer periods of time, I’m not going to be there for 50 years, which you’re probably grateful about, to constantly chase you. So it’s really important to find ways to internalise this and make it into habit.
So let’s talk about a few ways of doing this.
And I’m going to talk about three things today. So often I do five things, but we’ll stick to three now, since we’re talking about being disciplined and being motivated, so I don’t want to overwhelm you with lots of things to do. But in a nutshell, the first one is to get really clear on your why. And, of course, I always talk about defining what success looks like for you. So if we take the New Year’s resolutions, it’s so easy to just say again and again, “Yeah, I’m going to exercise more. I’m going to be more healthy. I’m going to lose weight. I’m going to work on my business. I’m going to do X, Y, Z,” and it’s just things that we feel that we should do.
“Oh, I should meditate more,” or, “I should do yoga really,” and unless we really get clear on why is this something you should do? Why is it something you want to do? Is this important to you? Is it more important than all these other things you’re doing at the moment? Because let’s face it, in order to put something new onto our plate, we have to take something old off. It’s something we often forget but there are only so many hours in the week. Now certain things, of course, like meditation and yoga might actually free up your energy and help you focus more in the time that you do have, so maybe that will allow you to do more things, but still, if we’re just adding that as one more thing on the to-do list, that’s going to be quite exhausting and not very helpful.
So you need to get super, super clear on what you want. And in fact, I have that quote up here on my piano behind me, which is discipline is remembering what you want. Discipline is remembering what you want. So again, thinking of the diet example, you might put a picture of yourself as you looked when you were thinner 10 years ago on the fridge just to show you oh yes, I want to get back into shape. I want to get fit and strong again is even better than thinner, really looking at okay, I’m going on holiday this summer. I want to feel more confident in myself. You can have keywords on there. You can have whatever it is that inspires you. That’s the power of the vision board, I think, to really remind yourself what it is you want. So I’ve got my vision board up here on the right and I can glance at that whenever I need to. So discipline is remembering what you want and why that’s so important to you.
Now, the second strategy or piece of advice I want to give you is to take action, because you might sit on the safer and wait for inspiration, motivation to strike, but that’s not going to happen.
It’s very rare that we’re sitting comfortably on the sofa, or lying in bed, or whatever it is, or sitting, let’s take it metaphorically as well, in a comfortable job that’s well paid, and quite enjoyable, and so on. It’s very rare that suddenly it’s going to go aha, now I’m inspired to clean the house, or go for a run, or whatever it might be. Now it has been known to happen, but it’s not necessarily going to happen that way. The reality is it’s the reverse. So action actually creates motivation, not the other way around. So it’s not that you wait around for motivation, or when you have the motivation, then you take action. Rather when you take action, you feel motivated. And this happens again and again.
Just in our group call this week, and the One Step Outside the 9 to 5 programme, I had someone saying, “You know what? I called this girl and oh my goodness, it’s amazing. Just with this one call I realised she’s already doing this as a consultancy, and it works so well for her, and she’s earning this, and she really inspired me, and it’s one call, one action that he took and really gave him that inspiration and motivation in practical terms and helped him to create that momentum to keep going. If you’re just sitting around going, “Oh, I’m not sure if this is right,” and, “What should I do?” and so on, then again, nothing’s ever going to happen.
An example that I may have given before is I can sit on the sofa and wait for cleaning inspiration to strike. In fact, looking at my sort of day bed next to me here in my study, it’s pretty messy, full of piles of papers, and whiteboards, and pens, and some towels that I was going to go through. And I can sit here looking at it and go oh, when I feel motivated, I’ll clean it up, or I can actually start cleaning up, and inevitably, as soon as I start, and I promise I will do this maybe later today if I have time, so when I look at this, when I actually start, I’ll feel oh my gosh, it’s so nice to have a clear room. I can now find the things. I’ll find important pieces of paper that actually I do need, and I’ll just feel so much better. Decluttering your room, you always feel amazing when you do these things. So taking action, do something, do anything.
You might say, “Okay, I’m going to clean the room for 10 minutes,” and then actually once you start doing that, you’ll enjoy it and you’ll keep going. Or the same thing. “I’ll go for a short run.” “I’ll do 15 minutes on the treadmill, on the bike,” or whatever it is. “I’ll listen to a couple of Anna’s podcast episodes<” or if you’re a member of my programme, it might be, “I’ll do a couple of the exercises.” Anything. Listen to podcasts, give someone a call if you can, sign up to a talk or a conference or something. It doesn’t have to be massive expensive. It shouldn’t be a three year MBA or whatever. I went to the Life Lessons Festival here in the UK a couple of weeks ago, and just a couple of talks with a friend, and saw some interesting people speaking, and got some ideas. Just one wonderful thing. You never know when inspiration will strike, but you have to take action. It’s not going to hit you like lightning sitting at home, as exciting as that sounds, as easy as that sounds.
And then the final piece I want to dig into is making it a habit.
So I mentioned this a few time. The example I always want to give here is brushing your teeth. Now, you may not be so good with your teeth hygiene, but let’s assume you are, and if not, then choose something else that you do do day in, day out. I do not have to persuade myself every morning, every evening to brush my teeth. In fact, for many years I didn’t floss, for example, and over time I actually managed to make that a habit too. So now I floss morning and night. So in no circumstance would I have to persuade myself oh no, you’re tired. You want to go to bed. Do you really want to brush your teeth? Maybe you can brush your teeth tomorrow. It’s not something I have to have a vision of me with clean, hygienic teeth, I don’t have to remind myself of how awful the dentist is or any of those things, I just do it.
And that is where you want to get to with your action steps, whether it’s healthy eating, or meditation, exercising, calling your ageing mother, or writing on your book, or creating art, or whatever it is, working in your business, you want it to be as habitual as brushing your teeth, or fill in the gap here for something that you do without even questioning it. Now, of course, implementing new priorities, new routines, there’s always going to be more resistance and it takes time to make that an unquestioning habit. So when I introduced flossing it did take more time to make that part of my habit, but eventually it happened. And once you do that, it’s easy. So how do you do that? Well, you can use some commitment devices like we were talking about before, the tying yourself to the mast, as it were, from the Odyssey. You can absolutely use an external accountability partner in the short term, just to help you get into that routine. You can and should absolutely plan.
So for example, rather than say, “I’m going to exercise three times a week,” you say, “Okay, I’m going to look at my calendar, and in fact I do this block in. Okay, Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays I’m going to do it at 7:30 after I’ve breastfed my daughter, before breakfast shower and my partner can have our daughter,” XYZ. “This is how it looks.” Or, “On the way to work I’m going to do this, and then I can shower,” whatever it is, but you need to really block it into your calendar. Look at how and when you’re going to do this.
I read a study a while ago about voting, and how ahead of the Barack Obama campaign they experimented with calling people up and going, “Okay, are you going to vote?” And they say yes or no, and that had no impact on whether or not they voted. However, what did have an impact was, “When are you going to vote? Where are you going to vote?” So they have to think okay, the voting day is this day. Well, I’m coming home late from work, so it’ll probably has to be on the way to work, or I’ll go at the lunch break, and if they’d worked out okay, that’s what I’m going to go and this is where my polling station is, I can take the bus, then they were so much more likely to actually go.
Because if you can piggyback onto something, associate it with something, like the routine, which is not so good maybe, of grabbing a donut or breakfast muffin or whatever it is on the way to work every day, because you have the same commute, you get on the tube, you pass the coffee shop, and it’s a really easy habit to follow, you want to reverse that and do the same thing, but with a positive, healthy habit. So every time I get up, sit down at a computer, this is what I’m going to do first. Or every morning the first thing I’ll do is this. Or on my way to work, I’ll take this other route and then I will … So if you can associate it with something, if you can piggyback it onto something concrete and really plan that into your diary, that really helps.
So my goodness, I feel like there’s so much more to talk about here, but I don’t want to make this too long an episode. We’re already almost 20 minutes. So just to recap a couple of those things. So we’re looking at the battle between our present and future self. If you do want to hear more about that and listen to the description of the Odyssey in a more eloquent way than I told you about it, I’m sure, there’s a TED Talk by Daniel Goldstein. I talked about getting clear on your why, discipline is remembering what you want, taking action because action creates motivation, not the other way around, and how can you make this a habit like brushing your teeth or like something else you do day in, day out.
Now a couple more resources I want to mention, which I’ve been recommending to people recently. One is the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The War of Art, and this is fantastic, whether you think of yourself as an artist or not. For me, it was very powerful many years ago as a writer, but also as an entrepreneur, business owner, whether you’re a designer, artist, whatever you think of yourself, The War of Art is really important and powerful. And then Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.
So Gretchen Rubin talks about the four tendencies you might be in. I’ve got to love a personality quiz. You’re either an upholder, a questioner, an obliger, or a rebel. Now I’m a questioner, which means I’m always questioning if someone’s telling me what to do, I’m always going, “How is that going? Why do I need to do that? Should I do that?” and so on. You might be an upholder, which means you’re sort of upholding the status quo. You might be an obliger, which means that you care more about other people’s requests from you than you do about your own. Or you might be a rebel, which is the opposite, that you actually rebel against anyone telling you to do something.
So I won’t go into the detail of that, but that’s something interesting, and it’s specifically really around habits, like I was talking about, this idea of brushing your teeth. So how can you make this something that you make into habit? And depending on which profile you are, which tendency you are there, it may be that you do need an external commitment device or an accountability partner or, in fact, that’s the opposite thing. So if I as a coach tell you as a rebel what to do, you’ll hate it and you’ll do the exact opposite. So that’s not very helpful. So having that self awareness and understanding is always going to be really powerful. Okay, so that’s it for today. Hope you enjoyed that and best of luck with making this a habit, and I hope you don’t have to tie yourself to a mast to do so. I’ll see you next week. Bye for now.
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