This morning, I was looking for clean clothes to wear, and instead of getting them out of the drawer, I went to a basket of clean laundry sitting on top of my dresser instead. Does this sound familiar? For many of us, putting the laundry away seems to take a backseat when we are cleaning the house. We wash it, we dry it, but the it takes us weeks to put away.
As moms, we can frequently stress about things like cleaning, or getting our kids to and from where they need to go on time. We can partially alleviate these worries by doing preparation in advance, but it can feel like a challenge even to set out clothes the night before or prep lunches.
It seems like doing things to set our future selves up for success is something that would come to us naturally, because of all of the positive benefits that it can have. So, why don't we do it?
Our brains aren't wired for thinking about the future
Even though planning ahead can save us tons of time and stress later on in many aspects of our life, it turns out that thinking about the future isn't naturally hardwired into our brains. This can explain everything from failing to put the laundry away, saving for retirement and thinking about climate change.
According to Slate,
This isn’t some poetic metaphor; it’s a neurological fact. FMRI studies suggest that when you imagine your future self, your brain does something weird: It stops acting as if you’re thinking about yourself. Instead, it starts acting as if you’re thinking about a completely different person.
Here’s how it works: Typically, when you think about yourself, a region of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex, or MPFC, powers up. When you think about other people, it powers down. And if you feel like you don’t have anything in common with the people you’re thinking about? The MPFC activates even less.
We don't care about what will happen to us in the future because it seems too far removed from our present condition. This is why it can be so hard to do things like working on long-term goals. If given the chance, we will choose something pleasant to do in the present moment instead of something where results will pay off in the future. The farther in the future, the more drastic the effect.
Understanding why we do the things we do can help us to learn better habits that will serve us better, so that we can be more prepared for our busy mornings and provide a host of other benefits.
Benefits of planning ahead
As you can see from the example of prepping the night before for your morning, there are some obvious benefits to planning ahead, like saving time and being more organized. The more you plan ahead, the more you are likely to be prepared in case of an emergency, or for the future in general. For example, if you save 10% of your money on a monthly basis, you will be prepared for the cost of an unforeseen car repair.
According to Sources of Insight, here are some reasons why you should care about your future self:
When you have more empathy and connection with your Future Self, you take better care of yourself today.
You make better choices, because you feel the impact of your daily choices and how they shape your Future Self.
The dreams you have for your Future Self can inspire and pull you through today.
If you have a Vivid Vision for your Future Self, you can motivate your actions and ground your choices.
Your Future Self’s hindsight is your Present Self’s foresight for this moment.
You have to think like your Future Self, and act accordingly, to realize your dreams.
You are in the best position to own your Future Self so you become who you want to be
By caring more about your future self, you will be more intentional about how you are living in the present. You will be less likely to have unhealthy habits like smoking, overeating or watching too much TV. You will also be likely to adopt healthier habits like exercising, personal development and healthy eating. All of these will increase your quality of life in the future.
There are many additional benefits to planning ahead, and when you find yourself making planning ahead a regular habit, you are sure to see benefits right away.
Some benefits of planning ahead include:
Reduces Stress and Increases Productivity
Enhances Goal Achievement
Improves Work-Life Balance
Better Task Prioritization
Better Stress Management
Reduces Decision Fatigue
When you make a plan from the beginning, you will be able to get more done than if you just live life on the fly. For example, if you have to go to the grocery store, making a list when you are at home will save time and make you more efficient than if you just decide to wing it. Otherwise, you may end up having to go back to the store a second time for forgotten items. If it is a 10 minute trip each way, then you just wasted 20 minutes by needing to take the second trip, not to mention bumping around whatever else you needed to get done, and using up more gas.
Doing things in the most efficient way the first time keeps you from having to do things over. This helps you save time, energy and resources.
How to start thinking more about the future
If you don't usually spend very much time thinking about the future (as science tells us that we don't!) it is easy to make a chance in your thinking to be a more future oriented person. There are easy ways to start being more of a planner, even if it isn't in your nature.
According to Slate,
If you are someone who rarely thinks about the future, it’s a surprisingly easy habit to adopt. In the course I teach at Stanford University’s continuing studies program, “How to Think Like a Futurist,” I tell students: Make a list of things that you’re interested in—things like food, travel, cars, the city you live in, shoes, dogs, music, real estate. Then, at least once a week, do a google search for “the future of” one of the things on your list. Read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a video—and get some specific ideas of what the future of something you care about might be like.
This is an interesting way to gain a future orientation in life, while also exploring topics that interest you. You can imagine a future with flying cars, or whatever strikes your fancy! By regularly thinking about the future of things that interest you, it is a great starting place towards thinking more about the future in general.
You can also start thinking about your life in a more future oriented way so that you can take control of your life, and make meaningful progress in the areas that are important to you. It isn't easy to change your thinking overnight, so make sure to take things slow so you don't get overwhelmed.
According to Very Well Mind, here are some steps to take when it comes to planning out your life:
Step 1: Look at What's Not Working
Step 2: List Your Values
Step 3: Look at the Future
Step 4: Lay Out (Small) Steps
Step 5: Tear Down Road Blocks
Step 7: Build Structures and Put Up Boundaries
Step 7: Ask for (and Accept) Help Along the Way
If your life was already perfect, there would be no impetus for change, so that makes it clear that something isn't working. You can determine what by noting your feelings throughout the day, and observing what makes you the most frustrated. These are probably the areas in your life that you want to change first.
After that, listing your values is helpful, because values are the things that are by definition most important in our lives. Values are also unique on a personal level, so what is important to one person may not be important to another.
Once you have determined your values, then it is time for the fun part: doing some daydreaming about what you want your future to look like. When you think about what your perfect life would look like, this is called creating your vision. Some people like to write this down, others prefer to do a visual called a vision board.
I usually make a new vision board every January to start the year, but it is something you can do any time that you are envisioning a big change in your life.
Once you have created your vision, then it is time to set your goals. It is helpful to do this using the SMART Goals Framework. This means that goals are:
Achievable/ As If Now
If you are unused to setting goals, you can start small. This way, you get quick wins, which increase the dopamine in your brain, and makes you more likely to stick with goal setting behavior. Dopamine is like a mental reward in your brain. It is a happiness chemical that is released when you complete a goal, among other things.
So, you can go back to the previous example of prepping for your morning. Set a goal of laying out your clothes every night before bed for one week. This should be fairly easy to do, and will help you build a new helpful habit.
Once you complete a small goal, use that as a stepping stone into setting bigger and bigger goals. By starting small, it allows you to dip your toes into goal setting without deciding to take on the world right away. This makes follow-through easier and reinforces the behavior of goal setting in a positive way.
As you delve into bigger goal setting, it is helpful to have structures in place to make your goals achievable. For example, you may set aside 10 minutes each day to work on your long-term goals. Put it on your calendar like an appointment. Then, make sure you are taking at least a small action each day. This will help you to make measured progress over time. Once you get used to spending 10 minutes, you can increase to 15, etc. as time passes.
There may be something that prevents you from working on your goals. For many of us, this can be a lack of time. You can ask yourself if this lack of time is because you are doing things in an inefficient way, or if it is because you have too many commitments. If it is the latter, look at things you can cut out of your schedule.
Finally, enlisting help is always a plus! If you can get your friends, family or your partner to help you with accomplishing your goals, then they are more likely to stick long term. Conversely, you can delegate tasks that are taking up too much time as well. This will free you up for doing the things you really want to do.
The more you can take on a future oriented mindset, the more you will be thanking yourself later on!
If you need help setting goals, having a Life Coach can be a valuable asset. Check out my 2-week Intensive Goal Setting program, to see if it's right for you.