Present me v. Future me: What I learned from the Willpower Instinct

If you’ve been following my blog, you might me remember my struggles with ice cream, or the time I quit training for the NYC Marathon, or the many months when I didn’t post at all [null link].  Maybe you’re noticing a pattern here.  I certainly did:  I have no willpower.

So I set out to remedy that by reading Kelly McGonigal‘s book The Willpower Instinct:  How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It.

Okay, you caught me.  I’m lying a little bit.  I didn’t actually read it.  Not the whole thing anyway.  But!  I did listen to the Audiobook while commuting.  Most of it at least.  And sometimes I would think about how I could do the exercises to try and get better about things.  But then I would remember my defensive driving training and return my eyes to the road, focusing on any immediate emergencies 2 seconds ahead or scanning for potential danger up to 12 seconds ahead.

At the very least, just by listening to the book, I now can’t help but think about some of the broader concepts that McGonigal discusses.  (Note – if you’re going to listen to the audio book, you’re in for a rude awakening if you expect the narration to be in the author’s voice.  And judging by her picture, she has a hot voice.  The narrator is a monotone man who probably sent a dozen other people to defensive driving class through no fault of their own.)

One concept I learned about was the struggle between my current self and my future self. From what I gathered, my current self is lazy, selfish, shortsighted, irrational, conniving, lazy, calculating, and optimistic.  While my future self is an amazing person, but I never get to meet him.  Here’s an example of a conversation I have with my current self all the time:

Rob1 (current self):  Man, I haven’t been to the gym in a week.  I am harnessing my pants together with an airplane seatbelt extender.  I have ice cream drippings solidifying in the folds of my chin.  Maybe I should go to the gym today.

Rob2 (also current self):  Good idea.  But didn’t you want to watch the new episode of Two Broke Girls?

Rob1:  No, not really.  I should go to the gym.

Rob2:  Dude.  Two Broke Girls!

Rob1:  Hm, that does sound good.

Rob2:  We can just go to the gym tomorrow.

Rob1:  True.

Rob2:  And let’s get some pizza and more ice cream because we’re going to start eating healthy tomorrow too.

Rob1:  Oh yeah, I did say I was going to do that when I was eating lunch at Arby’s.

Rob2:  Totally.  We’re going to be awesome tomorrow.

Rob3 (Future Rob):  Whoa.  I really committed to a lot tomorrow.

Rob1&2:  Yeah, but you’re so amazing.   We love you.

I’m not sure if reading that book will change the way I think about these conversations, but it’s at least made me aware that I totally justify things by thinking I’ll get better about them tomorrow.  And not only that, but McGonigal uses things like sciences and experiments to back up her findings.  I’m a democrat, so I really dig that kind of hogwash.

I’m not saying that this book has all the answers, but if you’ve been keeping track, you have probably noticed the dramatic increase in volume to this blog (and the distracting facebook clog I have caused on your timeline).  So you’re welcome and I’m sorry.

For the visual learners – this is present me:


And this is future me:


Now, about that ice cream….