Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I can see the future and you'll still hate exercise and broccoli

It's 20 years from now and Lauren still has that pile on her desk

Many new nutrition clients come in ready to make changes. In our initial meeting, I ask a series of questions in order to get a sense of their current habits. Then, I’ll devise an eating an exercise plan. With exercise, for example, if someone isn’t exercising I may suggest they find two 30-minute intervals to work out. Most clients balk at this allotment, I’ll hear comments such as “don’t I need to do more than that?” Or (you know I love a food expression) something to the effect of  “piece of cake” even though, prior to the meeting, there was zero exercise. My next step is to help clients schedule these new exercise sessions. If we’re meeting on a Monday, I’ll ask on which days the workouts will happen. Nobody says Tuesday, In fact Friday or Saturday would likely be the most common responses. We like to think we want to make changes but when pressed we’ll postpone or put the onus on ourselves later.

The New York Times reviewed a book entitled “The Willpower Instinct” explaining what’s at work in my example above.  Much of this comes down to something referred to as “our future self.” I know this sounds new-agey, stay with me. People differ in how connected they are to their future selves and this impacts decision-making. Less connection with this future self can manifest in less saving, flossing or eating well. With brain scans it’s shown that different parts of the brain are utilized when we think about ourselves than about others. For those disconnected from their future selves the brain activates as though it is thinking about another person. In my example, the client would expect someone else to be able to exercise more than 60 minutes a week.

The article explains ways our future self concept can be adjusted. Showing research subjects age-enhanced images of themselves changed responses to questions about spending and saving. Those who saw the older versions of themselves said they would allocate twice as much toward retirement. I think this is the same principle at work with diagnoses. When you receive a diagnosis, or even the threat of a diagnosis, it makes decisions feel more urgent and impactful. Before that, for some, health can be a vague, faraway concept.

So we can ignore our future self but we can also have unrealistic expectations. I can envision Lauren in the future with neat handwriting, no piles of papers and patience. This future Lauren will never be rushed because “next week things will calm down.” As the article said “I’ve been putting off eating better for some future time when somehow I’ll want to eat bulgur wheat rather than chocolate cake.” This is similar to the client who isn’t working out who wants to work out a ton “later in the week.” In one study, students were asked to donate time to a good cause. When they were told they had to do it in the current semester they signed up for 27 minutes. When they were given the option of next semester their volunteering increased to 85 min. Next semester they'll be more altruistic, right.

So what to do? If you’re disconnected from your future self, there are times when you will feel yourself relegating things to the future.  Whether it’s “next week” or “when I have a new job” under the assumption things will be different. When you feel that pull, do something in the instant.
  • I’m a fan of 15-minute intervals. We can all find 15 minutes to clean out one drawer, walk around the block or pay a few pills. Chip away rather than trying to conquer.
  • In terms of a visual there are websites to see older images of yourself such as in20years. To me this is a scare tactic. I’d suggest really think about the health issues your parents or grandparents face. Learn one new thing to minimize your risk.
  • Instead of assuming you’ll love exercise, saving money and doing charitable work in the future, try to sort out why you’re not doing what you think you should now…. chances are the future will be similar.

Are you someone who thinks about your future or not? What type of beneficial behavior do you postpone? What do you think you’ll be doing in 20 years?



29 comments:

  1. I often make decisions based on how I anticipate I'll feel about it later. However, I'm guilty of letting papers file up on my desk. 20 years is a long time! Haha 20 years ago I wanted to be a veterinarian and a reporter. I have a few ideas of what I'd like to be doing 20 years from now, but for the most part, I want them to be things I feel good about.

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    1. Twenty years is a long time but sounds as though you're a forecaster. Anticipation is a great word for this, I think active anticipators are probably more connected to our future selves.

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  2. Oh I LOVE this post Lauren!!! It's great, and it makes so much sense. Believe it or not, I am connected to my future self. Case in point, when I decided to get my master's degree, so many people told me "gina, why don't you think about it and maybe do it down the road after you've been an RD for a while". I disagreed with this statement because I KNEW my "future self" would be the same person (if not LESS motivated to be in school) so I enrolled right away! I try not to put things off because I know that if I don't do something NOW, I'll probably never do it.

    This is a great teaching tool. Thanks for this post!

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    1. Thanks Gina. It seems you're connected to your future self using both criteria. You neither postpone nor expect yourself to be radically different in the future. Since you're "in touch" in these ways I would think it important to realize others, you may advise, may not be.

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  3. I have worked hard since my marriage ended (happily) to start doing things I want to do NOW and not tomorrow. If I do not have time, then change something or re-prioritize. This was an excellent post and thoroughly enjoyed reading what you have written.

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  4. Baybee love the re-prioritizing concept. Rather than wait, actually take time to shift things around. As for the post, appreciate the comment I am under the influence of a migraine so I didn't even know if what I wrote made sense. Maybe I need to write with headaches.

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  5. Actually, I'm very connected with my future self and think about what I want my life to be in the future all the time. I think that's something that comes with age as I didn't do it as much when I was younger. My number one priority for my future self is health. I know that there is only so much I can control, but I am doing what I can now, and that's taking care of my health, eating right, exercising, working on reducing stress... And boy, in 20 years, I'll be in 60s...

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    1. I'm with you Andrea 20 years puts me in my 50s. I can see how you'd be a "future" person with the planning you do and that's probably a tool for others to get them to think about the future if they are not naturally inclined to do so.

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  6. I think about my future self a lot and have for as long as I can remember. There's a saying I like, "I do today what others won't so I can do tomorrow what others can't." While my location and career are not what I expected, I believe I am pretty close to what I envisioned twenty years ago. What scares me the most about my future is that I may be one of those non-smokers affected by the smoking relatives, mom, three grandparents, society, boyfriends. I already have some trouble breathing at times and I don't know if there is anything I can do about that. Otherwise, I do have "a plan" which is really just to say that I am currently flossing, exercising, keeping my weight down, learning new things, exploring and taking a few risks so that I am so freaking exciting as a person that I will have to live to be 96 just to fit it all in. Looking forward to it, too!

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    1. Caron, there is a supplement for lungs that I remember using with client who quit smoking, your fear of second hand smoke reminded me. It sounds as though you are planning and living and very connected to the future.

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  7. I was much more connected w/ my future self before kids. I saw myself with a MS degree and got one. I decided I wanted to be a renal RD and met w/ a local nephrologist and he hired me.
    Hopefully not just because I was in my young 20's at the time ha!!
    Anyway, now w/ kids I am much more disconnected. I imagine myself to be more organized, more patient but haven't quite gotten to the place that I would like to be. Definitely need to constantly reprioritize or things get out-of-control quickly.

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    1. Interesting and Andrea seems more connected now. Maybe less time gives you less time to forecast? I say if you were once future-focused you can get back there maybe you need the space to think about it.

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  8. Great post! And so true. So often, I say, I'll do it next week knowing that know is just a good a time as any.
    I love the 15 minute idea. I am going to try to incorporate that!

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    1. I think 15 minutes helps, small chunks.

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  9. Have you been reading my mind? Was just thinking about this! I am turning in my leased car after 3 years and am looking to BUY a car. When I took on the lease of a sporty two door car 3 years ago, I drove off the lot and swore that when I turned the car in, three years later, my life would be different. I think I leased the sporty car because I was trying to make myself happy with a material thing (NEVER WORKS). I was unhappy with my life, my job, my weight and somehow thought something shiny and new would fix that. Things did change after that day, got a better job, than an even better one, became a poster child for foodtrainers, ran a marathon, found myself a nice, good, funny boyfriend. I no longer need that shiny sports car, but in some ways it was the thing that prompted me to take a good look at my life and fix it.

    I am now looking at much more practical, fuel-efficient cars with room for more then one person.

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    1. "Room for more than one person" so interesting. Melanie, I think practical and future-focused are connected. It's saving and being healthy versus going fast and hoarding "things". I hope there's room in practical for a little fun. And yes, I can see the future so of course I was reading your mind. I also knew you'd were ready to change when I first met you. I think you changed faster than anyone I've met.

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  10. I am always thinking about the future. Obsessing over it actually! It's a terrible downfall for me.

    One thing I seriously procrastinate on is visiting the dentist. I hate it! I do it every 6 months but I detest it and try to postpone it as much as possible. If only it took 15 minutes...

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    1. Can we use obsessing to your advantage with the dentist and maybe ask dentist for a super fast cleaning? Maybe there's a correlation between blogging (takes planning) and thinking about the future because so commenters think about it. I feel I think about the future but also get a little scared of it.

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  11. Love the 15 minute idea, and I really need to start incorporating this in to my life, so that things will be calmer for me too next week! In terms of the future, I don't necessarily think about specifics, because I am open to surprises. I do think about being healthy, both physically and mentally, in the future, and, hopefully, having grand kids and being able to hang out with them a lot.

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    1. 15 min idea makes you stop postponing and trick is you usually do more. I don't think everyone has to be super connected to future self or not 100%. EA I think there are good things about being more spontaneous and in the moment. It's just a question of how this trait impacts behaviors.

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  12. The future me is very artistic. And organized. And fashionable. And 20 pounds lighter. And also she knows how to play the guitar. Ha! I'm VERY guilty of this.

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    1. Ooh would love to see hoe a "clay" future Stephanie compares to present, funny, smart Stephanie.

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  13. I think I verge on obsessing about my future. Hence I am taking a giant career leap effective March 12, enrolling in CUNY to finish a business degree, engaged, finally learning to budget and save and hoarding books on how to change my bad habits. I hope in 20 years from now that I have an MBA and a very high-paying, rewarding career and that I have lots of money saved, a nice home, a happy marriage, a great figure, good health, good friends, a book to my name or a screenplay...you know, the basics. HA!

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    1. Maybe connected to your future is the wrong word, velcroed to it? I have a feeling your "basics" will fall into place. Exciting about CUNY.

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  14. Interesting concept, Lauren. I think I'd like to think I'm connected to future Trish but not sure I am in its entirety. I love the 15 minute strategy though...I try to use this at work too when people tell me they don't have 'time' to be healthy.

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    1. We all have time for our teeth, our kitchens etc. Trish- have a great trip.

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  15. I definitely think about the future. It become more of a reality once I hit 30!
    I laughed out loud seeing Ameena's concept because I too hate going to dentists! That is the one thing I procrastinate also.

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    1. Wow, funny I guess because I don't hate it that much I don't avoid it. I avoid other things though..like bill paying.

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  16. Hi Lauren,
    Love this post. As a coach, one of the tools I use with my clients is a Future Self visualization exercise, that has clients looking at their lives 20 years in the future and having a conversation with their future selves (how's that for new-agey!). There are several questions they ask their future selves, including what have you accomplished and what qualities and skills did you use to get there. After the visualization, clients make notes about what they discovered and future self is then used as a tool to break through limiting beliefs and blocks. It's effective.. and fun. And readily accessible. As for me, I have a vision of myself 20 years from now but think I'll skip the websites that'll show me what I'll look like. Love the 15 minute approach. Bite size pieces..ok.. maybe not the right metaphor. Great post!

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