Want to play a game that helps boost your good intentions and make the right decision, with the added bonus of feeling more comfortable going forward in your life? It’s a little game I like to call “Don’t Screw Over Your Future Self” and it’s pretty easy to play.
- Stop yourself whenever you’re making a decision, big or small, right before you’re about to act on your decision.
- Ask yourself: “Will my future self regret it if I do this?”
- If the answer to the question in step 2 is no, proceed to act on your decision. If the answer is yes, ask yourself: “What else can I do in this situation that my future self won’t regret?”
- Once you have a non-regrettable decision to act on (or the least-regrettable decision in those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations), act on that decision.
That’s how you play! But, let’s dive a little deeper into the the problem this game helps with, how and why it works, and some gameplay guidance.
Don’t screw over your future self; make decisions your future self won’t regret. Ignore the instant payoff a decision will give you and think about how you will feel in the future if you make that decision in the present moment.
Many of us have regrets about the past and what we should have done differently in order to not be in whatever less-than-ideal situation we are in now. A few examples:
- Maybe you shouldn’t have had eight cocktails at your holiday work party.
- Maybe you shouldn’t have drunkenly called your ex, professing your undying love for him/her at 2am.
- Maybe you shouldn’t have eaten a huge plate of nachos right before going to bed.
- Maybe you shouldn’t have gone to the bar instead of cleaning up the pile of dishes that are in your sink so you have something to eat off of quickly in the morning.
The next day, you wake up, possibly with a hangover (probably with heartburn if you ate the nachos), regretting your actions to some extent. You beat yourself up about what you did (or didn’t do), which impairs your decision making in the present moment, leading you to make poor decisions about even the simplest of things:
- What weather-appropriate clothes to put on as you’re rushing out of the house to get to work.
- Not being focused in an important work meeting.
- Spending your evening watching mindless television you don’t even like instead of doing something you enjoy.
- Snapping at a friend who had the misfortune of interrupting your downward spiral of self-shaming to see if you wanted to hang out.
It can be an endless cycle – we get so focused on the past and what we should have done differently that we forget about the here and now, continuing to do things we will someday regret – whether that day is tomorrow or 20 years from now. This game helps you stop the cycle – and let me tell you, it feels really good to break free from it.
How It Helps and Why It Works
This game nudges you out of automatic behaviors and thinking and helps you become more mindful of how your actions are affecting your future. This has helped both myself and my clients immensely when overcoming self-defeating behaviors that can stop you from making progress.
Think about it: everything we regret or wish we hadn’t done are things we have already done in the past. Today is tomorrow’s yesterday, which means that what we choose to do in the present moment will either be something we regret in the future or something we’re glad we did.
We can’t change what already happened but we can prevent future regrets by making better choices in the present moment, the only moment we have a bit of control over.
For the next week, keep your future self in mind whenever you are making a decision, whether that decision is having a drink or simply going to use the bathroom. Go through the steps of how to play the game. This will be challenging and you will forget to do it at times and that’s okay. Just as you would challenge yourself in a physical workout, push yourself to be more present and to challenge more decisions you’re faced with. Even the simple no-brainer ones, like brushing your teeth in the morning, deserve to be thought about. It’s important to train yourself to pause (even if it’s just a few seconds) to think about something before you do it.
You don’t have to write out a huge pro/con list about every decision, some will be quite easy to make up your mind about, but it’s important that you take a moment to pause and reflect on each decision.
It can help to write the game rules on an index card to keep in your pocket and pull out whenever you’re making a decision until you get a hang of the game and it comes naturally to you.
At first, you might need to force yourself to do the non-regrettable action with every ounce of rational thinking you have (exhausting, I know). But try to go a step further and think about how you’ll feel on an emotional level by not doing the regrettable action. Remember, regrets are things we’ve done in the past. What we do in the present doesn’t have to become a future regret! The more you can emotionally side with the non-regrettable action, the easier it is to follow through with.
Have you tried playing the game? Let me know in the comments or if you have any questions! Interested in signing up for my online coaching services? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started (more details here).