Don’t think just do: the timeless wisdom behind the swoosh

When thinking about the landscape around managing oneself, there are two opposing ideas that I have found to be true:
1. My present self cannot be trusted to make the best choices in the present moment.


2. My present self knows what is best for my future self.

This odd dichotomy is a powerful insight if you can put it to your advantage. HBR published an article in 2012 titled, Your Problem Isn’t Motivation in which they identified one powerfully simple insight:

If you want to follow through on something, stop thinking. Or as Nike puts it, Just do it

Armed with this knowledge, there are two tricks that I employee strategically to help thwart my present self. 

1. Gamification of my habits

All of the mundane habits that I talk myself out of on a regular basis such as drinking water, taking my multi-vitamins, making my bed or stretching are all things that ideally I would not like to think about, but just do them on a regular basis. The trick I’ve found that works best is gamification (the application of typical elements of game playing e.g. Point scoring, competition with others).

Tracking stats and earning points for brushing and flossing, making my bed etc. is oddly enough the only prodding I need to build these habits into my daily routine. I’d recommend an app called Productive, although there are several others available out there.

2. Schedule your to-do list into your day

My day is broken into a combination of meetings and free time. When that free time comes up, I can be my own worst enemy, picking away at multiple projects 5 minutes at a time so that I feel like I am not losing traction. “Present me” knows that this is not a good practice for future me. As a results, I schedule time in for my projects, as well as micro time-blocks for responding to e-mails and knocking off all 5-minute tasks. 

In this mode, the only thing left to do is to stop thinking and start doing. Put your mind at ease knowing that your past self has already prioritized and laid out the best path for you. Now all there is left to do is follow. Brilliant for our monkey minds.

As with everything in life, it pays to keep things simple. And simple planning and scheduling in advance for all that your future self needs to accomplish is the best method I’ve found.