My husband loves time travel stories. The idea of being able to zip in and out of different iterations of his own life fascinates him. Every once in a while we will pass by a random young man, on the street or in a shop, and suddenly my husband will grin at me and ask, “what if that was our son, vising from the future??”
And then I furrow my brow and frown at him. The truth is, time travel stories sort of stress me out. The reason is, I have never been good at making choices and consequently lack the confidence in the person I have become in this very moment in the present. Example: it took me YEARS just to get over being asked to prom by 2 boys and feeling I chose incorrectly (sorry Daniel).
Since I was (am?) constantly fretting about the “choices” I’ve made that are mostly half-assed panicked reactions, I came to a kind of paradigm shift about my own sense of power. First, I made it a personal goal to focus on the active choices I can make. I even chant a little mantra at times: “I can choose my next action.” Secondly, I have allowed myself to time travel a bit. For my 2014 resolutions, I wrote 11 letters to my “future self” at the end of December 2013. The first of those letters came on February 1st.
It was a weird thing, to get a letter from my past self from just a bit over a month. The short letter opened with a description of what I was doing and quickly moved onto how I was feeling and what plans I was making for 2014. There are 3 things that were immediately observable…
1. I am the same person.
Obviously, duh. But more importantly, the things that bugged me in the past are still bugging me now. The habits I were caught up in are still things I do now. The fears and hopes I expressed are still present today. What this tells me is, I will not automatically “change” and be a different person in the future unless I work at it. This simple realization is reassuring (yay I’m still me and I know myself best) but disappointing too (same old bad habits and unfulfilled goals).
2. I have a hard time predicting my future state.
One line in the letter stuck out to me: “Since the baby isn’t here yet, I’m assuming that things are more or less the same as December — just busier.” This was followed up with a relatively ambitious goal that aligned with the first resolution of 2014. Um….lol? Despite the continuity of self that I discovered in #1, it was obvious that I failed to really understand the conditions of life I might be in just a few weeks later. Like, a weird brain trip where we think, “Maybe present me is struggling but future-me would be 100% A-Ok!”
It reminded me of the commonly held theory about procrastination: that we fail to understand or be kind to our future self. Here is one explanation from Psychology Today:
The philosophical understanding of the continuity of self from the present to the future is not a simple matter. We know that we are beings that persist over time, but why is it that we assume that who we are now is the same as who we were in the past and who we will be in the future…. Procrastination involves the voluntary infliction of a burden (perhaps even pain) on our future self. It may not be a disassociation from the future self, a break in our understanding of a continuity of self, but it does involve harming future self.
My December 2013 mindset just could not imagine how terrible it would be at 38 weeks pregnant in the wintertime! As a general habit, I tend to be overly optimistic about how much I can handle at any given time. It is unrealistic and a big burden on my sanity when those deadlines come up.
3. I can trust the intuition but tweak the planning
In the past, I would have given up on my “stupid” goals by this point. After all, I had already failed to hit the February 1 milestone (which was to finish my chapter on biopolitics). But this time, it was different…
I think it was enormously important to be reminded of my ambitions. Like I said, I am the same person (even if I keep too-high expectations for my future self). The things I reflected on in December still apply. For example, this was in my own letter:
“I was terrified at lacking control over the post-PhD job hunt…but I realize now that I have total control over how I finish and how I deal with post-PhD life. The most important thing here is to accept change and give everything its necessary end-date.”
All of that is still meaningful to me as a huge lesson for myself. So even if I set too eager goals, my resolutions are the same: Successfully make the transition from grad school into professional life; cultivate mindfulness; be attentive to my skin care.
I might tweak my schedule a bit, but I’m even more fired up about my “new years resolutions” than ever before.