What we do today can bring value later.
- Procrastination is a common human experience that can be improved using the science of behavioral change.
- Cognitive dissonance can lead to self-disappointment and regret.
- Self-compassion practice can help us take actions in the now for positive future outcomes.
Cognitive dissonance, the phenomenon of having clear intentions but struggling to take action can lead to self-disappointment, potentially compounding tendencies of inaction.
Harsh self-criticism rarely makes for breakthroughs in forming new habits and patterns. These cycles can be broken by drawing on principles of self-compassion.
Kristin Neff, a renowned educational psychology professor, describes three facets of self-compassion that can help us avoid tendencies for self-degradation: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Self-compassion can serve as a catalyst for positive behavioral change. Instead of spending energy filled with frustration and regret, we can reframe our choices and behaviors.
One way to do this is to appoint yourself as a bearer of gifts to your future self. Consider yourself as a conscious nurturer, devoted to bestowing treats and treasures that nourish and sustain you. Here are a few research-backed sources of sustained happiness and well-being:
1. The Gift of Setting Boundaries
On the spot, it can be difficult to self-advocate and communicate your needs to someone, or to let them know that their behavior is unsettling. Boundaries are essential components of well-being. Setting boundaries isn’t glamorous; it often provokes difficulties. Still, the gift of maintaining healthy boundaries is priceless. As Nedra Glover Tawwab emphasizes:
The hardest thing about implementing boundaries is accepting that some people won’t like, understand, or agree with yours. Once you grow beyond pleasing others, setting your standards becomes easier. Not being liked by everyone is a small consequence when you consider the overall reward of healthier relationships.
2. The Gift of Well-Managed Energy
Investing in our body budget to avoid burnout and overload is the ultimate gift in our harried world, rife with overload and hyper-achievement. Lisa Feldman Barrett explains that our emotions are constructed from baseline investments we make in sleep, hydration, and nourishment. If we are in a state of perpetual depletion, we’re more likely to become reactive. Similarly, in Daniel Pink’s book When, he emphasizes the wisdom of planning the right time to set out to accomplish varied tasks and the pitfalls of living in a state of erratic dysregulation.
3. The Gift of Playfulness
Leisure and fun tend to have a way of getting squeezed out in the face of competing priorities and cultures that stigmatize anything but the constant grind. Invoking our childhood spirit and giving ourselves permission to be silly and irreverent, and to lose ourselves in activities and pursuits that spark joy can provide the reprieve our brains and bodies need to stay and do well.
4. The Gift of Delayed Gratification
Poor impulse control can lead to decisions we regret. This doesn’t mean we can invite spontaneity or go to the extreme of denying pleasure or waiting for special occasions to savor life. But research shows that patience can pay off and allow us to resist making quick choices like overspending or overindulgence.
5. The Gift of Mindfulness
Staying in the now and truly relishing in the current moment can pay dividends for well-being. Instead of replaying old events in our minds or being embroiled in anticipatory anxiety over what’s around the corner, we can give ourselves the present of staying present.
6. The Gift of Connection
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Making time for cherished colleagues, friends, and family is worth doing. Time spent with people you care about is well invested. Seek people who are uplifting and bring joy. Relationships are cited among the most protective factors toward resilience. Even with competing demands, your future self will thank you for finding space to connect meaningfully.
While procrastination takes work to overcome, taking a self-compassionate approach can help. By intentionally considering what gifts your future self would appreciate, you can build behaviors in the now that keep bringing joy and meaning.
Lee, K. (2022). Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More and Offer Yourself to the World. Boulder: Sounds True.