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Live Like a Mensch: Tomorrow is Today

  • Image of your past courtesy of vastateparkstaff

     

    I may have mentioned before that one of my guilty pleasures is reading the various funny and informative articles on Cracked.com. I have also recently discovered the joy that is their podcasts. They are all about one hour long, which makes them the perfect listening for a walk run around the park across the street.

     

    Last night, I listened to their most recent podcast on 5 Ways Your Brain Stops You From Being Awesome. The podcast was loosely based on David Wong's article 5 Ways You're Sabotaging Your Life Without Knowing It. (Warning: salty language abounds throughout Cracked.)

     

    One of the things that the podcast mentioned that I found fascinating was this study by UCLA economist Keith Chen. Basically, Chen studied the relationship between saving money and the use of future tense in various languages. For instance, in English, we have a fairly strong and well-defined future tense--we say "It will rain tomorrow." In other languages--such as German, for instance--the future tense is not nearly as well-defined and you would say "It rains tomorrow" instead. That means that German speakers don't encode a difference between today's actions and tomorrow's with verb tense.

     

    This would be barely interesting to a linguist if it weren't for the fact that such encoding differences seem to put us English speakers at a disadvantage. Chen's study has shown that "speakers of [languages without distinct future tenses]: save more, retire with more wealth, smoke
    less, practice safer sex, and are less obese."

     

    Yeah, so the fact that we can tell the difference between what's happening today and what will happen tomorrow via verb tense means it's that much easier to think of tomorrow as morning guy's problem. As David Wong puts it in the podcast, we have a tendency to mythologize the future.

     

    I'm certainly guilty of it. In my very first post on this blog on Halloween 2011, I talked about envisioning myself as slimmer, richer, and more ethical as of October 31, 2012, than I was at the time.

     

    According to my watch, it's currently August 22, 2014, and I'm not really any of those things.

     

    And that's because tomorrow truly is today. We may be able to speak about the future with a distinct tense, but it is not separate from the present. We will only become the person we want to be tomorrow if we become that person today. There's no day in the future when that switch will be flipped and I will suddenly be Future Me! Refuser of desserts, runner of many miles, author of bestselling fiction!

     

    The thing is, I already am future me. If I want a better future, then I need to act as if my future is today.

     

    Of course, realizing this is the easy part. The hard part is actually refusing the desserts, running the miles, and squeezing fiction writing time into my life as it is right now.

     

    This is something that I have been able to do with my finances, because for some reason putting money aside today has never hurt the way passing up a chocolate chip cookie does. And once you see the glorious result of sitting on some compound interest for a few years, the pain of saving transforms into a real and visceral pleasure.

     

    Since I do have some experience with making future me and present me the same when it comes to money, I'm hoping that I can do a similar present/future merging when it comes to other habits I want to adopt: organization, healthy eating, exercise, putting the darn smart phone down every once in a while.

     

    Basically, I have to remember to say "I limit my screen time!" rather than "I will limit my screen time." Because the first one will actually happen, and the second will forever be out of reach.

     

    How have you worked to change your habits and become the person you want to be? Do you think language can hurt or hinder that process?

     

    Don't forget to enter our giveaway of The Teen Money Manual by Kara McGuire! Your future self will be glad you did!