In the summer of 2010, I was at the doctor's office for a routine check-up, the first I had in about two years due to moving and other issues. I remember this particular visit distinctly because it was the day that I was at my heaviest: 298.8 pounds (135.5 kilograms). It shocked me in a big way. Of course, I knew I was overweight, but given that I didn't have a scale at home, I never realized just how much weight I had gained since I last weighed myself.
The doctor scolded me, as he should have. "You need to do yourself a favor and get rid of all of this excess weight if you don't want to have health issues in the future." This advice is pretty much told by doctors all over the world in this scenario, but it's for a good reason. I needed to lose weight if I wanted to have a better tomorrow.
After this visit, I signed up at a gym and began exercising with a personal trainer, along with eating less unhealthy food. In about a year, my weight dropped to 255 pounds (115.6 kilograms). However, when I began to get more comfortable with my exercise routine, I began to relax a bit too much.
It started with my gym visits. I tried to keep at it, but they became less frequent. I also began to revert to my old ways of eating. The changes weren't immediate, which made it more difficult to notice when my weight loss stalled. One particular Friday evening, some co-workers invited me to go out to a local brewery which also had some of the most delicious pizza in town. Earlier in the day, I had planned to get myself home after work and prepare for going to the gym early Saturday morning. Instead of declining the invite, I distinctively remember telling myself "I'll postpone my gym session for another day. I can have some pizza and beer tonight. 'Future Dennis' will be able to handle a day of unhealthy eating.
A few months later, I weighed myself again: 280 pounds (127 kilograms).
I got scolded yet again by the doctor at my next check-in. It reminded me of the words that he first told me almost two years before: "You need to do yourself a favor." That's when I realized that I was not doing "Future Dennis" any favors.
Spending a little more time today will save you a ton of time tomorrow
Most of us go through our days not paying attention to our actions today and how they can affect us tomorrow. That's not to say we should worry about every little thing we do. Of course, we aren't psychics, so we don't know what tomorrow holds for us. But there are actions that we can be sure about when it comes to the consequences that happen later on in life.
In my story about how my weight ballooned not once but twice, I wasn't doing myself any favors by not exercising and eating poorly. When I woke up and decided not to go to the gym, I knew that meant I wouldn't help my body become fit and healthy. The same went whenever I ordered a hamburger or picked up the third slice of pizza. I knew I would gain weight and potentially have other obesity-related illnesses as I grew older.
Despite those actions having clear negative consequences for the future that far outweighed the small dose of gratification I would get in the present, I still ignored them because my mindset was that I could deal with it later on in my life. And I did deal with them later on (as of right now I'm at 205 pounds / 93 kilograms).
But the issue here is that if I had taken the time to exercise and eat right ten years ago, I wouldn't have to be in a position where I have to work so hard to get where I'm at now. It's almost like I'm wasting a lot of time I could have used for something else because I wanted something now. That's the part where doing yourself favors now will help you in the future.
Avoid the trap of instant gratification
Instant gratification will make you prefer to have a little bit of pleasure now instead of thinking how much time you'll have to spend dealing with it down the road. It's one of the main reasons why most of us make decisions that are detrimental later on in life.
You eat those extra donuts now without thinking about how you'll have to exercise or take medication when your weight skyrockets. You buy that expensive item with your credit card because you want it now, then you'll struggle to pay it fully thanks to high interest rates. You don't study for your exam now because you want to play just one more hour of video games, only to find yourself pulling an all-nighter before the test and getting a bad grade.
As noted above, it doesn't extend just to weight loss. We live in an age where we want - and usually can have - everything at this exact moment without having to wait for anything. It's an incredible benefit to have, but not when it comes at the expense of causing problems for our future. When you do yourself a favor now, you might not be thinking how your future self will be affected until it's too late.
The best way to combat the feelings of immediate satisfaction is to try to ask yourself questions about how what you do now can be helpful later or even a burden you have to bear for a long time after. When you're about to reach for that extra donut, ask yourself if you'll still feel satisfied later on because you know it's not the healthiest thing out there. When you really want that shiny new item, ask yourself if you can afford to pay it quickly when you get your credit card statement. When you want to continue to play video games, ask yourself if you'll still be able to ace the exam with less study time. More often than not, you'll know what the correct answer is, and you'll be able to adjust your actions quickly.
Of course, this is not an easy task to do, mainly if you've spent years - if not your entire life - behaving in a specific way. Some habits are so deeply ingrained that it will take significant effort to snap you out of those routines. It will take time and practice to reprogram your brain (I highly recommend these three books to help), but as long as you take small steps and remain consistent, you'll be able to help out "Future You" effortlessly.
Help yourself, and your future self will always thank you back
Often, we spend our days helping others. You might have family that needs to be taken care of, or you're continually helping fellow co-workers to accomplish their tasks. These actions are noble and generous, but they often come at the expense of your own good. You give favors to everyone except yourself.
Make sure that you're taking the time to give yourself a little care. You can't rely on anyone else to do that for you. When you take a short time today to help yourself, you'll be exponentially helping your future self, and "Future You" will always be appreciative of that.
Small steps for your Practical Good
Here are some small steps you can begin taking now to start giving yourself favors that you'll undoubtedly cash in later on in your life:
- Identify current behaviors that may lead to troubles in the future. We all have specific actions that won't help us in the future. In this article, I've used diet and exercise as examples, but it could be anything from how your relationship is with family, your work habits, or how you spend your free time. Spend some time identifying if some of your everyday actions might be something that will come back to haunt you later in life.
- Before doing one of those behaviors, honestly ask yourself if what you gain now will be worth the future problems. Once you have a few behaviors in mind, choose one that you think will affect you the most in the future. Then, before you take that action next time, as yourself if it's worth doing now or if it will potentially hurt you later on. Asking yourself these questions consistently will help you change the routine and break the bad habit from affecting your future self.
- Keep track of your changes over time. It's easy to forget how a small change now helped you later, whether it be one day from now, one week, a few months, even a couple of years. Seeing what changes you've made and how they have helped in the future can be a powerful motivator in keeping with your progress and expanding it into other areas of your life.