Be Good to Your Future Self

What does it mean to be mentally unwell?

A short and common answer to this question is disturbed or extreme emotional responses. The hallmark of depression is sadness or flat mood. Anxiety disorders, as the name suggests, are characterised by fear or anxiety. Bipolar disorder? An excess of sadness/flatness alternating with a surfeit of joy/excitement/energy.

But apart from these emotional responses is there something that links these disorders?

Michael Amlung, from McMaster University in Canada, and his team sought to explore the link between impulsivity and eight mental health disorders. The team analysed 40 papers on major depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia and others disorders. They found that people with a wide range of psychiatric disorders consistently display impulsive tendencies – they prefer current small rewards to having a larger reward later. This was especially seen in people with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia.

What can be done? Much of this impulsivity is likely genetic. Another part of it is related to developmental difficulties; people who have been exposed to childhood trauma are more impulsive. Nevertheless, anyone can improve their ability to beat impulsivity.

Last post, I talked about talking to yourself. Imagining a stronger, wiser future-self that cares for you to talk with, is one helpful way to feel encouraged and accepted. And, in the spirit of fairness, you should be kind back to this future-self. This means giving gifts to your future self. A gift might be a good exam result, which you give through hard study. A gift might be a long and healthy marriage, which is bequeathed to your future self through working on communication with your spouse today. These are all the gifts of delayed gratification – you work hard today to help your future self.

What kinds of gifts does your future self like? Healthy food, exercise, relationship work, avoidance of addictive behaviours, good sleep hygiene, money savings and challenging career and study tasks.

So, when you plan your day or week or month, do it with a companion, your future-self. Imagine your future-self enjoying the fruits of your hard work. Imagine your future-self thanking you for filling the trolley with healthy food. Imagine your future-self being joyous that you chose to go for a walk. Or that you called an old friend that you had been avoiding.

Stay well tomorrow by sending your future-self a gift today!

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