Harnessing Gratitude to Stop Sabotaging My Future Self!

Having the opportunity to coach kids of all ages in the sport of swimming for the past twenty years, I have experimented with many ways of coaching to best serve the kids, I care so much about. Emulating other coaches, I learned many things that did not work such as yelling, forcing, imparting my will, lecturing. Sure, these worked at the moment but did not have any lasting effect, except one. The kids learned how to avoid these tactics, essentially having the opposite intended effect.

I noticed that I was not just using these tactics with the kids I coached, and it was screwing over someone I care a lot about. Yelling at him to get him to do things, saying that you are not good enough, thinking that would motivate him to be better. I roped him into doing all kinds of things, he did not want to deal with.

  • Cheating him out of money
  • Picking up the pieces whenever I miss a deadline
  • Even forced him to eat healthier while I got to pig out.

This poor guy wound up being collateral damage in nearly every bad decision I have ever made. Who was this easy mark of a person? He is future Mike. He is me just in the future. Looking back, past Mike was a real jerk to future Mike. I was sabotaging my future self. All those decisions that brought instant gratification, at the moment really affected my future self.

What Did I Do to Stop Sabotaging My Future Self?

My lying mind at first gave me the quick answer to this question. I just need more willpower, just grit my teeth. Hence all those tactics such as yelling, forcing, imparting my will, lecturing. However, that force myself kind of willpower tends to disappear, as soon as times got rough, deserting me in the very moment, I would need it most. I found a much easier way to kick myself into goal mode. One that makes delaying gratification to protect my future self a total breeze. The best part about this willpower supercharging strategy is that it did not just help me achieve my future goals but also helped me experience more happiness.  First, I wanted to explore what didn’t work.

The Fragility of Willpower

Willpower error loading. Willpower not useful in eliminating self-sabotage.
Will power is very fragile and can only be used for so long before it gives out.

As described by David DiSteno in his book Emotional Success the power of Gratitude, Compassion and Pride. We tend to use willpower when we are trying to pursue long-term goals, something that has a big reward in the future but might be difficult in the moment or require some effort on our part. Using willpower to overcome our desires for more immediate gratification. For most of our history here on earth as a human species, the future was very uncertain. Not knowing:

  • if the food I am looking for will be there tomorrow
  • if I was going to be here in two months
  • etc…

We live in a world that has a lot more certainty and it is just that our mental calibration has not caught up to that certainty. If desires for what we want in the moment are always tamped down utilizing willpower, then the body is in a kind of perpetual stress to always preserver towards something in the long term. Often, we do not invoke will power in the first place because we are really good as humans in engaging in rationalization. RIGHT???

  • I deserve this ice-cream because I have been good all week in my exercise.
  • Spending this money is okay because I have worked hard today.
  • Etc…

When I went this route, I did not engage in will power in the first place, I gave myself the easy way out.

Why Do We Have the Ability For Self-Control In the First Place?

It did not evolve so that we could save for 401K’s or lose weight. None of this existed for most of our evolutionary history. Having the ability to be a little bit selfless as opposed to being selfish is what mattered for our success. To cooperate with others, to be fair, be honest, generous. These are the traits that have allowed us to be good partners to other people. David referred to them as moral emotions. Things like gratitude, compassion, and authentic pride.

It is an Emotional Thing

Harnessing my emotional tools that I have in my arsenal to assist in protecting my future self from self-sabotage.
Using our emotions to help our current self-protect our future self.

Attempting a different strategy, I harnessed my emotional tools that I have in my arsenal to assist in protecting my future self, proved to be the habit worth creating. This may not seem obvious and it did not to me at first. When I started to allow myself to express and experience my emotions that is when the biggest changes started to happen for me.

  • Willpower to eat better was not needed and I still dropped over 40 pounds.
  • Working out was a joy and I am now stronger and more fit than I have ever been in my entire life. Just for context, I was a Division I varsity athlete for most of college.
  • My coaching improved when I was able to foster connections with the kids that I work with. It is so much fun to be on the deck and work with the kids.

What used to be stressful is now joyful.  The one emotion that I have found that has helped me the most is gratitude!

The Attitude of Gratitude Habit

Attitude of gratitude habit to lessen self sabotage. Gratitude is the emotion that we feel when someone gives us something of value at some cost to themselves.
Gratitude is a very powerful emotion allowing us to forgo instant gratification.

Gratitude is the emotion that we feel when someone gives us something of value at some cost to themselves. A present, financial assistance, their time, etc.…We feel that the benefit this person is giving us could not be achieved very easily on our own and they are doing it at some cost to themselves. The feeling that this person really helped me, which causes us to want to go above and beyond to pay them back. Altering the emotional state in how future changes are valued, making it much easier to forgo the instant gratification. Gratitude is really about the future; it helps us value long-term goals more than immediate gratification

Making a habit of gratitude helped me engage in self-control allowing me to be less selfish towards my future self. Cultivating gratitude not only gave me more self-control to pursue my future goals, but patience to persevere in the face of difficulty and it changed my relationships. I showed more appreciation to everyone around me and I experienced more compassion towards people, experienced less reactivity towards situations. Experiencing more gratitude has had a snowball effect on my life.

How Can I Start My Habit of Gratitude?

I am grateful that you have decided to continue reading and you may be interested in building your habit of gratitude. One way is simply doing daily reflections. Just like looking in the mirror to see if your hair looks in place, we do the same with our day. Reflect on your day. I use these three questions;

  • What is at least one thing I did well today?
  • What is at least one thing I can improve on tomorrow?
  • What did I learn about myself today?

For me, these questions are powerful. Reminding myself that I do things well no matter what. I am grateful for the ability to change and there is always something to learn about myself. These questions have assisted me in developing awareness around my life and make changes to best serve future Mike!

Reflecting on your day to practice gratitude, What is at least one thing I did well today? What is at least one thing I can improve tomorrow? What did I learn about myself?
Asking ourselves three questions each day can help you reflect and experience more gratitude.

Your Turn – Using First Times and New Experiences to Develop Gratitude

What better way to develop your habit around gratitude and nurture your future self than to be grateful for doing things for the first time and having new experiences. Giving yourself more opportunities to experience the emotion of gratitude and foster your future self and become that person you want to be.

Here are some examples of things to be grateful for and can help you start setting your intentions;

  • Learning from mistakes – without experiencing new things you will not make mistakes and without mistakes we would not learn much.
  • Opportunity to get an education – an opportunity to keep learning and exploring will not only open our mind but also the ability to meet new people.
  • Laughter – laughing at yourself when you give something new a go and it does not go as planned.
  • Time – the time we get to experience new things.

What are some things you are grateful for that you are paying forward to the future you? Thank you for reading my thoughts and if this has helped you in any way, we would be grateful for a comment as it helps us connect with you and our future selves are ecstatic about that. Comment on our Facebook group!

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