Taking Care of My Future Self
But one thing that seems to get less airtime is future consequences—consequences that we’d prefer not to think about or consequences we hope to avoid when they hit. I am not talking about climate change or other important social or justice issues, but rather, something on a more personal level. The little decisions that we make (or don’t make) day to day that impact our future in the hours, days, weeks and months ahead. Of course, years can be included too, but I’d prefer to keep this article a little more short-term.
Even more than this though, I’m interested in the question of whether present actions can have implications for our future self, particularly when such actions are done with the mindset and foresight of caring for our future self. The self-caring piece is an important distinction—otherwise, this would be just another article about procrastination.
An Important Conversation
Several months ago I had the privilege of having a very engaging conversation with someone who routinely asks herself questions like:
- “What does future [name] need?”
- “What is good for future [name]?”
- “What would healthy future [name] want?”
This may sound like a benign conversation, but it actually blew my mind and kickstarted a one-month+ process of thinking deeply about links between present and future when it comes to self-care. I started slotting my name into these questions and observed myself examining some of my smaller-scale choices differently.
Self-Care: An Expanded Timeline
Self-care is often described as a present-oriented activity. Do this, and you will feel better. Stressed? Go for a run. Tense? Take a hot bath. Lonely? Meet up with a friend. And I 100 percent agree with the value of these activities. In fact, solid, in-the-moment coping strategies are essential for navigating the ups and downs of daily life.
But as the New Year approached—a time of more intensive reflection about goals—I wondered how I would be looking after myself in 2018: Could present-oriented choices and initiatives have self-caring consequences for my future self?
Getting Focused With Questions
So I started getting a little more specific about my future-oriented questions, and a little more detailed in my responses.
- If I do X will it help future Megan?
- If I do Y will it harm future Megan?
- How specifically might X help future Megan?
- How specifically might Y harm future Megan?
I decided that it is important to not only promote activities that could make things better for me in the future but also to know why I am doing these things—what the specific positive or negative consequences could be.
A Project For Megan
So like all good SMART goals, I wanted to trial this emerging idea, using a goal that was specific and measurable.
Some of you may know that housework and I share a stormy history and it’s something that I always need to keep in check. So it seemed natural that I choose a housework-related goal because it’s an area under continuous development and something that has major ramifications for self-care.
My example: my kitchen has long been a hub of my home: cooking, congregating and storing the things that make these activities happen. It’s one of my most frequently used rooms, and things can get messy there, fast.
For many years I have found myself in a cycle: prepare supper, eat, rest, childcare, get ready for work, go to bed, go the office the next day, come home, have a cup of tea, clean up the dishes from the night before, cook, eat, rest etc.
You may have inferred why this cycle is problematic, with actually very few advantages. Let’s take a look:
- Come home to a messy kitchen
- Spend a significant amount of time cleaning it up before I can cook
- Supper gets delayed because of necessary cleanup before the cooking can happen
- Other items from the home gravitate to the kitchen and don’t get dealt with because there is pressure to make the supper, given the restricted timeline
- Emotionally feels chaotic
- Sometimes can’t find key cooking equipment or utensils
- Hard to have people over last-minute when the kitchen is “in a state.”
- Less aware of existing groceries which may result in ‘double buying.’
- Compromises feelings of pride in one’s home
- Elicits negative emotions like discouragement and overwhelm
- Does not promote re-imagining of one’s self and capabilities
- Can relax after supper
- Can get to bed earlier
It was fascinating to do this old-fashioned pros and cons list and to be awed by the fact that the cons list was so much more extensive.
My next step was to reflect on how my future self might benefit, by creating a new cycle: prep supper, eat, clean up, rest, childcare, go to bed, go to the office, come home, have a cup of tea, start cooking 1 hour earlier, eat, clean up, etc.
Admittedly, this has taken some getting used to, particularly when it comes to pushing up against desires to rest immediately and having to wait on that.
On a few days it even felt like a battle royale between the needs of my present self and the needs of my future self. And sometimes the needs of the present moment even win, when current circumstances truly warrant it. For example, I went to bed one night early and did only a minor cleanup because of sleep problems the night before. Honest self-reflection is key as is balancing the needs of both present and future Megan.
But for the most part, I find myself cleaning most days, even when I don’t feel like it.
What have the advantages been?
- Earlier supper
- Cleaner, more organized kitchen
- More restful mindset
- Improved confidence from confronting and working through a challenge
- Can welcome unexpected guests and have them for tea in the kitchen
- Thrifting unused kitchen items for others to use
- Money saved from knowing what food and supplies are available
I couldn’t actually find too many cons, except sometimes being tired and wanting to rest right away and maybe losing 20 minutes of sleep. And as I mentioned earlier, sometimes I might choose present over future! This rule is not hard or fast. For me, it’s important to distinguish between body fatigue and “self pitying” fatigue where I just don’t wanna.
Reflections on Future Self-Care
This experiment has prompted a lot of reflection and has also increased motivation for applying the practice of future self-care in other situations.
I am asking questions like:
- What are the consequences if I do or don’t do?
- Are there goals that I want to accomplish, both present and future? Do my present choices work for or against these goals? Could they complement each other, or build on one another, moving forward?
- Does it take more work to do it or not do it?
- Is this something I can take care of quickly which could get me to a place of mental peace or promote letting go more readily?
And for a little encouragement, and to promote progress, I might:
- Imagine a self-caring future scenario – think about it in detail. Visualize how things could be different in the future, with self-care steps now.
- Recognize and honour the changes. Write or make mental notes.
- Share the changes, if appropriate. Publicizing can help to solidify and make it harder to slip back.
- Practice (and repeat) in order to change response patterns and neural pathways
- Start small and expand as time as time permits and successes build
- Use one’s name when reflecting or asking questions as it makes the practice more personal, less theoretical
- Avoid the perfectionism trap of trying to do self-care flawlessly
- Delight in the changes when you see them. Find gratitude when you can.
Thank you for reading!
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