If you have trouble motivating yourself to start a new project or change something about yourself, change your perspective from now to the future. By thinking about what will benefit your future self you’ll be able to gain the motivation to act today instead of tomorrow. The best time to reshape your thinking is, of course, today.
Collectively, those moments of satisfaction will add up, a process Ainslie calls “bundling.” Like a worker assembling a gift backet, the brain’s subconscious reward circuitry computes the collective value of all the different benefits that will accrue tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and ties them all together in a package. Even if any of the individual future rewards may seem distant and hence hold little value, the whole bundle added up together amounts to something quite large—larger, even, than a single moment of pleasure in the here-and-now. The mountain will always remain larger than the tree. Even if the future benefits may seem distant and hence hold little value, they collectively can add up to something greater than a single moment of pleasure in the here and now. The mountain will always remain larger than the tree.
What you’re doing, essentially, is mentally projecting yourself into the future so you can experience the satisfaction of tomorrow’s rewards today. Intriguingly, researchers have found that people who more strongly identify with their future selves are better at self-control. In a 2009 study published in Judgment and Decision Making, psychologist Hal Hershfield showed subjects Venn diagrams with circles labeled “Current Self” and “Future Self.” Those who said they viewed the circles as mostly overlapping demonstrated more self-control in a later task: They preferred to wait for larger monetary rewards rather than taking small monetary rewards right away. Numerous other experiments have demonstrated a similar effect. “Being able to step into the shoes of our future selves,” says Hershfield, “is akin to being able to realize both the positive and the negative ramifications of our decisions.”