I talk to Past Self a lot. I’m convinced by now that she can actually hear me, if I yell at the screen loud enough. “DON’T GO IN THERE, PAST SELF!” (Maybe if I throw popcorn at her…) The more important certain events are in our timeline, the more often I revisit those scenes, and the more often I reinforce those messages. What if that little voice called the conscience was really mostly just time-traveling reverberations from our know-it-all, hindsight-is-20/20 future selves? It makes me want to listen harder, to find out if I can hear Future Self checking in more often. I shout out to her, “FUTURE SELF, WAS THAT YOU? THIS CONNECTION ISN’T VERY GOOD. CALL ME BACK!” I want to be as good a listener as I wish Past Self would be. Because that girl? Can be a real imp sometimes.
Hey, Past Self. You really need to stop doing that thing.
No I don’t. I DO WHAT I WANT!
No, seriously. Search your heart; you know it to be true.
Shut up, Future Self. You think you know everything.
I DO know everything. I can see your future! You need to listen to me.
Live your own life, Future Self. Don’t you have some retirement plans to worry about or something?
Um, since you mention it… I know you already know about the law of compounding.
AAARGGGH! Go away. I’m trying to live in the now!
All I’m saying is that you’re really going to wish you had paid attention, just a short time from now.
Okay, okay. What do you want me to do?
I want you to quit drinking soda, go on a budget, lose some weight, start tracking your sleep metrics, get rid of your storage unit, and don’t date anyone on this list. [starts unfurling list]
Pffft! [hangs up]
Hello? Hello?? [stares at Future Phone]
The trouble with all the advice I want to give Past Self is that I know it all sounds incredibly boring to her. Everything I know to be a good idea is intrinsically unappealing. Go to bed at 11. Stop reading in bed. Keep a food log. Stop buying books and clearing out the thrift store every month. Follow a housework schedule. NO. THANKS. From my current vantage point, I know the value of getting enough sleep is about 100x more than Past Self would rate it. I know we’re not going to want to keep a single item out of all her thrift shop finds, or that storage unit. I know how many times even an extra $25 in the bank would have saved our poor-planning little butt. I definitely know all the people we shouldn’t have dated. Most of all, though, if I really had only one wish? I wish Past Self would quit that soda habit. The one thing she cared about the most, the thing she was always least willing to consider rationally. Her one true, true vice. (Other than interrupting people and never calling anyone).
Fortunately, I was at least dimly aware of the existence of Future Self from around the age of 19. I read about her in a book. She was hiking a trail a ways ahead of me, and every so often I would be allowed a glimpse of her, smiling at me over her shoulder, just before she disappeared around a bend. Who was she? What did she do for a living? What was she reading? Was she married? Did she ever learn to make decent pancakes? In this way, we start to determine the simple, harmless things we can do to make our daily lives comfortable and interesting. Past Self did a number of nice things for me, here in the present day, and as she got older and more experienced, she did more. She got us our retirement fund and our college degree and our driver’s license (in that order). She taught us to make the pancakes. She wrote hundreds of pages in our journal, working out a few of her issues, so that we could move forward with less baggage. She flossed our teeth and kept up to date on our tetanus shots and our passport. I have to try to be grateful for the favors and forgive her for the f-ups. After all, I can read her mind, but she can’t really read mine.
Talking to Past Self always helps when I want to get ready for a conversation with Future Self. I remind myself of all the times I acted against our self-interest. How many times I fought our intuition and ignored that inner voice. How many times I overindulged in short-term hedonism, like eating cake for breakfast, and regretted it later, usually only an hour later! How many things I refused to submit to scrutiny, clinging to the exact habits that were draining and dissolving our quality of life. It keeps me humble. It makes me more receptive. It turns out that Future Self is pretty smart. She’s never steered me wrong. When I catch up to her, I can see the notes she leaves me on the trail markers, with little smiley faces and cheery notes saying “Well done, Past Self. You finally paid attention.”
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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