Look in the mirror. Say your name.
You’ve just activated a section of your brain devoted to YOU.
Now think of some random celebrity. Say their name.
You’ve just activated a totally different section of your brain, this one dedicated to OTHERS.
Now – and here’s where this gets freaky – think of yourself in 20 years.
Which part of your brain just got turned on? The YOU circuit, or the OTHER circuit?
If you’re like most people – pretty much everyone, in fact – you think about your future self as if she or he is a total stranger.
That’s what UCLA researcher Hal Hershfield discovered when he scanned the brains of study participants using fMRI technology. We don’t think of our future selves as US. And it turns out that has huge implications for behavior.
Screw Your Future Self
Think about it: Imagine you made a New Year’s Resolution to go on a diet. No more Krispy Kremes and Doritos for you! This is the year you lose those extra pounds, get off your hypertension meds, and maybe even start jogging again.
And everything goes swimmingly well – for about 3 hours.
By 11am on January 1, you’re Jonesing for a cookie. Or a week-old donut. Or a cup of stale coffee with nine sugars. Anything. HELLLLPPPPP…
At this point, you’re doing some fevered calculations. YOU want a cookie. Like, really badly. Like, you pray no one you care about tries to get between you and that cookie.
And there was this resolution thing, wasn’t there? Something about losing weight and blah blah blah. What the hell for?
So you in the future can look good in a bathing suit?
Screw them. Screw future you. Future you isn’t a YOU anyway. It’s a THEM.
No effing way.
And so our present selves backslide and binge, and we do it again and again and again, even while knowing that the person we’re screwing really is US.
The real rub is this: You ARE the future self of all your past decisions. Whatever you’re experiencing now, how you look, how you feel, how fit and healthy: these are all to some degree (and for most of us, to a huge degree) determined by how PAST YOU acted.
You’re already FUTURE YOU. And if you’re like most of us, knowing that intellectually didn’t do you much good.
Any Good News Here?
Turns out we can hack our brains to start thinking of our future selves as US. According to Hal’s research, simply aging a photo of yourself can increase the degree to which we identify with ourselves in 20 or 40 or 60 years. That’s right: using the free Old Fart Booth app on your smartphone can make you a better cookie withstander.
Even as simple as exercise as writing a letter to your future self can activate the same neural rewiring.
Because now when we say no to the cookie, we’re not suffering so some hypothetical stranger can benefit who knows when.
We’re doing OURSELVES a solid, and we feel smart and empowered and proud to do so.
To hear all about this stuff, listen to the Plant Yourself Podcast episode with Hal Hershfield: https://plantyourself.com/pyp-191-hal-hershfield-befriending-future-selves/
Before You Go
The really weird thing about the whole Future Self phenomenon is that time doesn’t seem to be much of a factor. Meaning, yourself in 2 hours is just about as much of a THEM as yourself in 40 years. It’s a phenomenon known as hyperbolic discounting, and it’s the main reason New Year’s Resolutions fail.
Here’s how it works. Anything in the future is about half as important as whatever’s going on right now. So that stale Krispy Kreme glazed cruller in the fridge in the break room feels twice as compelling as the 5k you want to run in the spring, or walking your eldest down the aisle in 14 years.
Even identifying with your future self doesn’t totally even the scales (let alone, demolish that damn cruller like it deserves).
So knowing this, what are we to do?
Dan Ariely of Duke University has studied people who seem to get their kicks from hard, uncomfortable things. Competitive cyclists, endurance athletes, CrossFit members, accountants, those sorts of people. (Kidding about the accountants – mostly 😉
He identified a phenomenon he calls Benign Masochism. Enjoying the pain and discomfort even while it’s going on. Feeling proud of the commitment that you’re bringing to a tough situation. Identifying with your present self and enjoying the self-esteem boost that comes from sacrificing now for a future good.
That’s the ultimate key to the FUTURE YOU conundrum.
Intellectually, I know I should eat better and exercise and get enough sleep so some hypothetical Howie doesn’t have to wear expando-belts and sleep next to a freaking CPAP machine when he hits his mid-50s.
But in the heat of the moment, what really powers my resolve is the RIGHT NOW feeling of, “Who just said no to that cookie? Who’s a badass? Who? Who?”
Do Something Right Now for Your Future YOU
Motivation waxes and wanes. When we’re hot, like right after making a New Year’s Resolution or getting some troubling lab results or watching an episode of Baywatch, we’re sure that we can withstand donuts, stale or fresh, until the end of time.
But when the hots cool down, that donut is still there. Three hours older, sure, but still full of enough sugar and fat to power a NASA shuttle launch.
So one of the most important principles of lifestyle change is, Strike While the Motivation is Hot.
Set something in motion that will commit you. That will change everything forever. That will create a new default.
So that when you don’t give a damn about FUTURE YOU and just want to crawl inside a giant bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and not come out until Malia Obama is president, you’ll still have structures and support to keep you heading in the healthy direction.
Like – oh, just picking something out of the blue totally at random – joining the Big Change Program.
If you don’t know about the Big Change Program, it’s a year-long program led by Josh LaJaunie and myself. The goal is to get you to a place where you’ve lost the weight you want to lose, you’ve gotten off all the meds that you can get off, you no longer struggle with food, and you’re not only exercising regularly, but you identify as an athlete and you can’t imagine yourself any other way.
You have clear rules and standards that don’t restrict you, but give you the feeling of freedom for the first time in your life. Freedom from fear of bingeing, freedom from shame, freedom from being a puppet jerked by the strings every time someone offers you a cookie, freedom from the nagging suspicion that you aren’t living the life you were destined to live.
Josh is the heart and soul of the program. He knows the journey, every painful and glorious step of the way. He used to weigh north of 420 pounds, and he’s now a competitive ultra-runner who just made the cover of Runner’s World magazine last month. He’s the most generous, loving, inspiring, humble, and entertaining person I know.
I’m the organizer, the coach, the teacher, the first student who helps the master set up the academy. I’ve been coaching in the business world for a decade and a half, and I know something (rather a lot, really) about how to motivate, guide, and support people to make big, sustainable changes to their habits, behaviors, and destinies.
The Big Change Program runs only a couple times per year. The first one began in August 2016, and the second one starts next week. The deadline for signing up is this Saturday, January 14, at 10pm EST. If you miss it, you’ll have to wait at least until April until it comes around again.
If you’re on the fence; if even a small part of you is intrigued – please check it out. There’s a 100% happiness money-back guarantee. Josh and I are the ones taking the risk, not you. We’re putting in the time, energy, money, and focus, knowing that this is our mission in the world. If you decide it’s not for you, no hard feelings.
You can sample the Big Change Program via a free test drive. You’ll get a daily lesson in your inbox, and you can go through the exercises and watch the videos and listen to the audios to jumpstart your own Big Change, whether you sign up with the program or not.
- If you’ve struggled in the past
- If you use the word “hope” a lot, and with less and less conviction (as in, “I hope this time I actually use the gym memberhip”)
- If you use the phrase “I want” a lot, and with more and more longing (as in, “I want to stay away from dairy for good”)
- If you have a deep, abiding feeling of “Enough’s enough” but you aren't sure what to do next that won't keep the revolving door spinning
- If you truly desire to be fit and healthy
- If you’re just tired of not living your highest values and you can’t understand what’s stopping you
Then BigChangeProgram.com. Seriously.
So many current members tell us that this is the first time they've ever felt in control of their lives, because we work with fundamental mindset shifts and not just “eat this and don't eat that.”
Be well, and may 2017 be your best year ever!
PS As much as I want to become fabulously wealthy and make informercials with me standing in front of my Ferrari with my mansion in the background, Josh and I are committed to making this program as accessible as possible. So when you think about what you might pay for a year's worth of teaching, live coaching calls, daily forum interactions, weekly homework assignments, videos, Q&A sessions, and even, in the Platinum option, unlimited live 1-on-1 laser coaching sessions with me – I think you'll be very surprised at how affordable the Big Change Program is.
Become a Health Coach
New cohort beginning Fall 2021. Live classes will be 10-11:30am US Eastern Time on Wednesday, so this is a Europe- and Africa-friendly class. Also for folks in the US, Canada, and Central/South America who have flexible mornings.
Find out more and apply here: WellStartCoach.com.
New Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight
Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.
It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly 🙂
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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.
It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.
You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.
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