Why the Brain Discounts the Future Self and Makes Attaining Goals So Hard

And, what to do about it.

Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

What’s willpower got to do with it?

Most of us use willpower to try to accomplish our goals. With it, we use the rational mind to force ourselves to do what’s necessary. Unfortunately, we know from experience that this isn’t a very reliable tool.

Using our emotions to achieve our goals

The last place we think to look to achieve our long-term goals is in our emotional toolbox. These silly, irrational things seem to get in our way much more often than they help us achieve anything.

  • You once needed to move a couch so you feel compassion for her situation, which makes you desire to help her today.
  • She is looking to you to help her solve a problem so you feel pride in your abilities, which makes you desire to help her today.

How to cultivate a future-oriented mind

To cultivate a future-oriented mind, we need to cultivate emotions that cause us to stop over-valuing the present. Gratitude, compassion, and pride are exactly the emotions we’re looking for. Thankfully, it isn’t as difficult as it sounds to cultivate them. We just need to be mindful.

1. Gratitude

Keep a regular gratitude journal. In it, write down three things that you are grateful for today. The trick is to not use the same examples each time, in particular, the big things, like family and friends. In time, you will habituate to them and you won’t get the benefits. Instead, focus on the little things. Did someone let you merge into traffic? Did someone hold a door for you? Did you have a nice chat with an acquaintance you bumped into?

2. Compassion

Meditate regularly. Use an app like Headspace or Waking Up to get started. The trick is to not get impatient or angry with yourself. “Meditation is easy” is a phrase that no experienced meditator has ever uttered sincerely.

3. Pride

This is a tough one to wrap our heads around. Pride is often associated with arrogance and hubris, but it needn’t be.

Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about science, meditation, and spirituality.

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