how to trick yourself into being kind to yourself

I’m part of a very small, private, online group of runners who share training tips, race experiences, encouragement and advice. We’re a diverse group of men and women of all ages (I think I’m one of, if not the oldest), but we all have a common goal: stay fit, and run more.

One of the women in the group, who I will call E, introduced me to this incredible concept about a month ago that fundamentally changed my life not just as a runner, but as a human. It’s an incredibly simple concept that anyone can apply to their lives.

This was waiting for me on a music stand, about a year ago, when I was doing a voice over job

Ready? Here it is: Whenever you can, do something kind for Future You.

Future You is someone you love and care about. Future You is someone who you want to be happy, and you have endless opportunities to make that happen.

This concept came into my life when she said, “I really didn’t want to run this morning, but I knew that Future E would be glad that I did, so I ran for her.”

I’ve often given joking apologies to Future Wil for eating too much spicy food, or staying up too late, but I never really thought of Future Wil as someone who existed, who was a person, who was depending on Present Wil to make his life a little easier. After E put it into context the way that she did, I could see and feel Future Wil come into existence. I could remember all the times I made myself do something I didn’t want to do, or decided not to have more ice cream, or not to stay awake too late to watch just one more episode of a show, so that I was rested, or didn’t feel nauseous, and regretful.

One of the ways my mental illness expresses itself is to make me feel like nothing matters and nothing is worth doing because everything sucks and I suck and everything is awful. One of the ways I’ve learned to live with that and push back against it is to recognize that it’s not rational, and to just get through it. But now I have this new skill to use that really helps me when Depression starts doing its best to wrap a lead blanket around me: Present Wil feels like garbage, but Future Wil doesn’t have to suffer because Present Wil is suffering. Future Wil is probably going to be grateful that Past Wil did his best to make Future Wil feel better.

I guess it’s a rhetorical trick, a way of fooling myself into taking the best care of myself that I can, but it doesn’t really matter if it’s a trick, because it works for me. I have a really hard time doing things that are just for myself, because I feel like I don’t deserve it for one reason or another … but that me from the future? That guy hasn’t done anything to me, and I should do my best to do something kind for him, like eating good food, or getting enough sleep, or getting out and exercising even though I really don’t want to do it.

Of course, the tricky part is committing to this, but I’ve been having a lot of fun doing it, and I enjoy the surreal silliness that comes along with the whole thing.

Some things you can do for Future You, to get you started:

  • Make your bed. Future You is going to love going to sleep in a clean, orderly bedroom.
  • Oh, you should probably straighten up the rest of your bedroom, too. But it’s okay if you can’t! Maybe Future You will help, after Future You sees how nice it is to have the bed made, and Future Future You will love it!
  • Wash your dishes. Future You will be so glad that the sink isn’t full of dirty crap.
  • Take the stairs. Future You will feel awesome because you did something that wasn’t easy, when you didn’t have to.
  • Get that toxic person out of your life. Future You will be so grateful that she doesn’t have to deal with that jerk any more.
  • Turn off Twitter. Future You is going to be so happy that you didn’t waste time arguing with that person you don’t even know.
  • Make plans to do something fun with someone you care about. Future you will get to hang out with someone you like, and present you has something to look forward to!
  • Buy Future You a present, like a massage, or a spa day, or tickets to a movie or a concert.

You get the idea, right? It’s so simple and obvious to me now, and it feels like something that I’m sure doesn’t come as much of a revelation to the smart people out there, but my whole life I have missed totally obvious things that were right in front of my face.

Maybe some of you missed it too, and now you may feel like doing something kind for Future You. Future Me is going to feel good when he finds out that present me helped some people be happier than they were.