To Change Your Life, Learn How to Trust Your Future Self
How to change for the better, for good.
Read the full article at: nymag.com
The secret to a lifetime of fitness isn’t some superpower like motivation, persistence, or willpower.
The secret to a lifetime of fitness is establishing trust in your future self.
A Simple Strategy
OK, let’s break that down, because… listen up … this is important. Scientific research has identified a simple strategy you can start using today to stick to a fitness routine for good.
Why is it so easy the night before to decide to set your alarm and put your running shoes by the bed and resolve to get up and go for a run first thing in the morning? But when that alarm goes off it seems like the sweet embrace of the pillow has an almost insurmountable veto power over all your plans?
This doesn’t seem to be rational behavior. After all, you know all the heath benefits of regular exercise – it’s practically a wonder drug and if it were a pill you’d certainly take it every morning.
Delay Discounting and Preference Reversal
The psychological mechanisms at work are knows as “delay discounting” – rewards now are more highly valued than rewards in the distant future, and “preference reversal” – when a reward is right in front of your face, like your warm pillow, it gains a lot more power than the distant, more abstract goal of fitness.
We’re Not Lizards
Luckily, humans have a mechanism for overcoming these obstacles – that no other animals have – it’s called “bundling”.
Lizards, for example, don’t plan for the future. Humans do. And the way we do this is through a simulation engine located in the prefrontal cortex of our brains (that lizards don’t have) which allows us to step into the shoes of our future selves.
What we do when we bundle is we package together all of the benefits that our future fit self will experience over the course of a lifetime – suddenly that “bundle” becomes more powerful than hitting snooze and sinking back into that deliciously warm pillow.
The Issue is Trust
There is one problem with bundling, and this is the reason why 90-plus percent of people don’t stick to a fitness routine. The problem is that most of us don’t trust our future selves. When we say “I’m too lazy” or “I’ll get bored” or “I’m not athletic” we’re not talking about the exercise, we’re talking about ourselves. We’re expressing the belief that we just won’t stick with it . Where does that belief come from? The observation that we have failed to stick to a fitness routine in the past.
It turns out that we can’t talk, or even think ourselves out of those self-beliefs.
A Simple Rule
But, there is a way out – we have to establish trust in our future self by establishing a simple rule and sticking to it, no matter what. Don’t worry about the behavior itself, just focus on establishing trust by sticking to it, without fail. Once you observe this type of behavior, you will start trusting your future self and replace the downward spiral of self-doubt with an upward spiral of self-trust.
Take a ridiculously simple rule, like doing one pushup every morning when you first wake up. It may seem silly at first but try it. The point is not to build a habit but to establish a pattern of evidence of consistency that your own brain can observe. Now you will start establishing what’s called an identity-based goal – becoming the type of person who does some physical activity every morning.
Establishing Credibility With Yourself
As you establish credibility with yourself, you can start expanding your rules – ten pushups, fifteen, twenty. Soon it becomes part of who you are and it gains momentum, your investment in the activity grows which raises the cost of quitting, and the momentum actually makes it hard to stop. Pretty soon you will wonder how you ever got out of bed in the morning without banging out some exercise.
Effortlessly on Your Way
You don’t need a superpower like motivation, persistence, or willpower. Just start gradually establishing trust in your self with concrete observable actions, and you will be effortlessly on your way to a lifetime of fitness.