posttitle = Delegating to future-you can be a suggestion, not a command titleClass =title-long len =59

Delegating to future-you can be a suggestion, not a command

Imagine that you often forget to put the trash out on thursday night before the garbage truck comes on friday morning. Taking the trash out isn’t super fun, but you know, neither is never taking the trash out (eww) and it’s probably better to take it out thursday night than friday at noon.

So then imagine that it’s thursday night, and you’re on the phone with your friend from out of town, and they remind you that “hey, last time we talked, weren’t you lamenting that you always forget to take the trash out on Thursday?”

That would be a pretty helpful reminder, right? And you probably wouldn’t be mad at your friend. I deliberately made it be your out-of-town friend reminding you, not your housemate, because I wanted to have it be a person who obviously wasn’t responsible for doing it themselves.


Imagine that instead of your friend reminding you, the reminder comes from past-you. You had set up a little calendar event or something that goes “ping!” on thursday evenings. I think that the way a lot of people feel about these reminders from past-selves is that they’re commands: “HEY YOU. TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE, NOW.” I mean, some people will literally write stuff like that to themselves, in all caps. (I used to see this in people’s Complice intentions too, back in the early days when I was responding to peoples’ submissions. Sometimes with swearing too.) Sometimes it’s playful but it usually suggests that there’s tension somewhere in the relationship between your temporal selves. At any rate, even if you don’t literally write that, and you just get a note saying “take out the trash”, it can still sometimes feel like a command.

Why does this happen?

I think it’s part of a much bigger thing around people not having a good relationship with themselves-over-time. This can be built up over many experiences of procrastination, where (unlike the situation with the garbage, where past!you couldn’t’ve taken out the trash for you) you feel like your past self who’s sending you the message has shirked on their duties. Something like…


In order to cultivate a better relationship with giving suggestions rather than commands to your temporal selves, you might want to start with things like the garbage, where it’s really clear that:

  • the you giving the suggestion wasn’t shirking on their job
  • the future-you that gets the reminder is the you that has to do it (ie you can’t push it back further)

This is one step on the path towards feeling like you’re on the same team as yourself, spread across time.
And then work up to the idea that maybe it’s worth cooperating on doing tasks that you could do later but which would sure go better if you started on them now.

I’m writing a series of posts about this, of which this is the first. The rest will be over on the Complice blog.

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.


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