We’ve all had those moments. We wake up late for a busy day, stumble downstairs bleary-eyed and stressed, reach for salvation in the form of a cup of blessed coffee… and realise that last night we had laid everything out ready and all we have to do is press start on the machine. It might have only saved me a minute this morning, but the gratitude I felt towards my past self lasted the whole day.
Ok, I’ll admit, I also have the other kinds of mornings. When I wake up and head downstairs, all ready to seize the day, only to find that I’d used the last of the coffee yesterday and there were no clean cups. It can take a real effort of will to shrug off the resentment I feel, which is made even worse, as the only person I can blame is myself.
Past me can be a real pain in the neck!
It’s astounding how a small piece of thoughtfulness (or thoughtlessness) from yourself the day before can have such an impact on your mood. We chastise ourselves for not foreseeing the situation that we’re now in, and I think we often struggle to have empathy for what we were feeling or dealing with in the past.
On the flip side, we can feel a strong sense of pride and even gratitude towards ourselves for having displayed foresight and created something positive.
This tendency to divide ourselves into ‘me’ and ‘past me’ (as my kids call it), can be really useful to understand. We can be grateful to our past selves, because we respond to our past selves (to a greater or lesser degree) as a different person. At some instinctive level, we understand that the person we were last night took time out of their evening to set up the coffee machine ready for who we are today to have a more relaxed morning. When we set things up in an evening, we get the same emotional boost that we get from helping others, because at some level in our brain, we are.
There is also a flip side to this. This disconnect between our current selves and our future selves is one of the main reasons that delayed gratification can be so difficult. We are going without so that future us can enjoy something even more.
That hardly seems fair.
This sense of fairness can be a tool we can use as well though. If we know that we have benefited from the thoughtfulness of our past selves, it’s much easier to think ahead and start to consider what our future self needs us to do today.
It doesn’t have to be domestic tasks or denying ourselves a treat. One of the ways I use this is to help me decide which tasks are the most important to get done. I ask myself which tasks I will be most glad I’ve already done. If there’s a task I’ve been putting off, this can help me make some progress on it. It also usually highlights an obstacle or a key task that will free up several others. I suspect we feel that our future selves will somehow be more insightful and able to see the single thread that helps to unravel our current obstruction.
However it works and whatever the mechanism, just asking yourself the question now and again might have some useful outcomes.
So, what will I be glad for tomorrow that I did today?