There Are 3 Ways to Make Decisions — Only One is Right

According to Philip Zimbardo, author of The Time Paradox, people tend to make decisions in one of three ways; either past, present, or future-facing.

When you make decisions based upon the past, it’s because you are quite literally living in the past. You’ve run out of future to pursue.

Rather than trying to progressively move your life forward, everything has become about maintaining your own status-quo or seeking out some sort of “nostalgia.”

When you make decisions based upon the present, you’ve bought into the idea of ‘living in the moment.’ Everything’s become about pleasure.

If it sucks, you don’t do it. If the outcome can’t be guaranteed, then what’s the point? Indeed, it very much is about having everything right now.

When you make decisions based upon the future, however, everything has become forward-facing. You’re not stuck in any past or present identities. Instead, you’re far more focused on who you are becoming.

Indeed, it’s not about how something feels in the moment that’s important. Instead, it’s about being congruent with your ideal.

Said Roy T. Bennett, “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”

So, which is right?

The Psychology of Your Future Self

In his brilliant TED talk, Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, says that most people misunderstand time. They mistakenly believe that who they are now will pretty much be the same as who they are in ten years.

When in fact, your present and future selves will be completely different people, regardless of intention. Said John C. Maxwell, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

Hence, your decisions today will either be appreciated or regretted by your future self. Thus, every decision matters. Each choice is followed by a consequence. Thus, no choice is free.

If every decision you make makes you, then it makes sense to make decisions based upon who you want to be rather than any random impulse of the moment.

However, as Hal Hershfield reports, many people feel disconnected from their future selves, and thus, discount rewards that would later benefit them.

And while many researchers are working to plug this disconnect between our present and future selves, such as by using AI or VR, it’s far easier just to have a goal.

Of course, having a goal immediately pulls you out of your past or present circumstances, and puts you on the pursuit of a new and exciting future.

That goal should also become the filter through which you view your life.

For example, the 1998 British Rowing team had a goal: win gold at the 2000 Olympic Games.

That ONE goal then became the benchmark for the rest of their behavior. Before doing pretty well anything, they’d ask themselves one simple question:

Will it make the boat go faster?

If it did, they’d do it. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t.

Because they were very clear on what they wanted and who they intended to become, they were able to make decisions that best aligned with their future selves, and thus, they got the result they wanted.

In order to live this reality, however, you must be both intellectually and emotionally committed to your goal. You need to want it more and more every day. You need to see it in your mind and then go towards it in the here and now.

Such a commitment is what usually comes through visualization and investment; the more emotionally-charged and invested you can become in a future vision, the more you’ll be driven to achieve it.

And no, this is not just a nice idea that I write about. In fact, it’s actually something I live.

For the entirety of the year, if been writing about traveling the world within the pages of my journal. A few months ago, I bought the ticket, and now, I’m rapidly moving towards it.

Indeed, I’m very clear about what I want and thus, able to make decisions based upon my future rather than my past or present circumstances.

Although, what about you?

Will you intentionally and deliberately design your future self.

Or, will it be a random and unconscious evolution?

Liked this article? Join my email list to stay in touch.