Our Present vs Future Being


I was having a conversation with a dear friend yesterday about ordering a watch and then waiting 6 months to take delivery. This led to a dialogue about delayed gratification, and I thought it was worth writing about. Nothing being said here is new, but it is a short enough post and I was overdue anyway 🙂

From a very young age, there is an ongoing battle within everyone, relating to our present-being and future-being… for lack of any better terms! The present-being is akin to an inner child, and cares only about the present, about today. The present-being wants to focus on anything which offers an immediate payoff. This could be anything from an excessively indulgent night out, to spending money on extravagant watches and cars, or even delaying doing things that can potentially be done in the future. Our future-being, therefore, is akin to our inner adult.

Our future-being values the things with which it might take time to see results — these are obvious things like saving money, or learning a language one day at a time… but also less ‘tangible’ things like working on a relationship and so on.

Imagine for a moment you’re a young student, aspiring to buy a luxury wrist watch. The present-being considers the price tag of several thousand bucks and a lack of steady income, and might be discouraged by such a seemingly impossible goal. The present-being might decide to start saving tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes, because the same insurmountable problems never seem to shrink or disappear. The present-being actually talks about this lofty goal, as if it is the same thing as working towards it. It is not.

The future-being knows that money won’t save itself, and that it is likely to take some time to reach the goal. It might take months or years of saving, along with hard work required to earn the money being saved. The future-being doesn’t focus on the total sum, and knows that focusing on smaller chunks is the best way to make progress.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Chapter 64 of the Dao De Jing ascribed to Laozi

As such, these two alternate approaches are merely a matter of perspective. How one focuses, and what one focuses on, will determine how we perceive the challenges we face. Everyone has experienced the feeling of getting lost in the magnitude of a particular task or goal, rather than focusing on a more bitesized approach to making tangible progress.

The thing is, this lesson applies to everything! Of course I am alluding to watch collecting, but say you are writing a book; it makes more sense to focus on writing a great paragraph first, followed by another, as opposed to focusing on the entire book. In a football match, players don’t focus on winning the match, they focus on each successive run of play and use their strategy and formation as a guide to achieving a win. Same goes for watch collecting; Whether you have a goal of collecting a million dollars worth of watches, or every metal variant of a particular watch model, the approach remains the same – start with one.

In short, after you have an understanding of your task or goal, try not to focus on the gargantuan nature of the task at hand… instead, focus on the smallest possible step you can take, that will take you closer to achieving the goal or accomplishing the task. As your momentum builds, progress is likely to get easier. The second thousand bucks is easier to save than the first. The second paragraph is easier to write than the first. Execute, appreciate, repeat.

The wisdom of favouring the future-being is simple, but not simplistic: Dedicate your efforts towards one thing you can do today, that will make tomorrow easier. Forego the urge to experience instant-gratification. Let the future-being win the battle over the present-being. Repeat.

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