Predicting our future wants is pretty much our entire ambition.
Everything you work for is delayed. Instant gratification is a myth; we live in a world of instant distraction from things we really want. But that’s the rub – the instant noise that surrounds us has, I believe, weakened our ability to predict our own future wants. That’s what hurts us.
If you know for certain that in five years, you will absolutely want (or still want) a certain thing, it’s much easier to work diligently towards it today. But if you lack the certainty of any particular thing you’ll care about next month, let alone half a decade from now, it will be hard to focus on it.
Kids provide excellent clarity here. I am certain to my core than in five years I will still want my children to be happy and healthy. That gives me a lot of purpose day-to-day. It doesn’t have to be kids, though! As pro-child as I am, don’t take this to be any sort of encouragement to have children specifically.
Rather, it’s an encouragement to talk to yourself in the past so you can talk to yourself in the future. Are you working your tail off today for something you don’t think you’ll care about in the future? Are you slaving away for a job that doesn’t really move you towards your more meaningful goals?
Were you doing that five years ago, and it’s hurt your happiness today?
Stay away from care-a-minute instant noise that tells you to change what you want every other breath. Make sure that the things you actually allow space in your heart are enduring. Let other things delight you in their moment, certainly – but don’t give them the ability to displace the important things. Humans can only truly care about a small handful of things. If you allow ephemeral things to take those slots then you’ll significantly damage the foundation of your ability to translate caring into consistent action. You cannot build a life on top of caring about the latest celebrity gossip, political scandal, meaningless assignment at a dead-end job, or acquisition of some trinket.
Instead, care about something lasting. Give your future self many gifts – adventure and security, knowledge and happiness, wealth and purpose. You cannot get those things today. But today, you can begin to care about them so that you have them tomorrow.