“Night Steve is trying to sabotage me.”

This is a quote from one of my clients in a recent coaching session. [NOTE: Name has been changed for privacy reasons. Also, I changed his name to Steve because Night Steve reminded me of this infamous Tina Fey moment.]

The premise of this conversation was that Steve was getting frustrated because the follow through from our coaching session just did not happen and he couldn’t figure out why. He told me that he felt so confident during our session with what he was setting out to do (i.e. hop on his treadmill in the evening after dinner) but when it came time to do it he just couldn’t bring himself to start. So we dug into this a little further and discovered some pretty important information…Day Steve was enthusiastically calling the shots and setting goals while Night Steve was getting pretty peeved at his new responsibilities and doing everything in his power to not follow through on them.

Past self vs. future self

This is a perfect example of a very important behavior change principle that looks at the relationship between past and future self. And we have all been there; we have seen this relationship play out in our own lives.

I am sure this scenario has played out for you at some point…You go to a conference and are all hopped up on new ideas and new motivation so you set out to make vast and sweeping changes when you get back to the office on Monday. Then Monday comes around and you are too busy to implement anything new, you don’t have enough clarity on where to start, or your motivation has dissipated. A couple weeks go by and as you are clearing off some old papers from your desk, you stumble across your conference materials. You think back to what you had learned and how excited you were to make changes and you get annoyed with yourself for not doing a damn thing.

Sound familiar?

Or perhaps you have purchased a product from an infomercial and still 3 years later, that panini press sits in the back of the cupboard. This is another prime example of the relationship (and disconnect) between past and future self. Past self got super excited and bamboozled by the infomercial and made a rash decision. Future self is the one that has to use or do the darn thing and is saying “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

“Future self is the one that has to use or do the darn thing and is saying ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’ “

Do you see what is happening here? Past self, or the self that is in the moment making decisions and setting goals, is doing so based on the motivation, mental capacity, barriers, and conviction of past self. Even though future self is the “person” who has to do the thing!

So how to we bridge the gap between past and future self to make goal setting easier and improve follow through?

Give future self a persona

When Steve started to reference his evening hours self as Night Steve, he began to create a persona for his future self. Night Steve became an entirely different entity, with his own set of querks and challenges. Giving Night Steve his own set of qualities helped to create separation between the Steve that wanted to get things done and the Steve who was lacking on the follow through. This ultimately made it much easier to navigate and strategize how to make his exercise goal work while also disabling shame.

“Giving Night Steve his own set of qualities helped to create separation between the Steve that wanted to get things done and the Steve who was lacking on the follow through.”

Night Steve is pretty lazy (client’s words, not mine) and would prefer to get his lounge game on in the evenings after dinner. This is a slippery slope and he quickly reaches the point of no return. Night Steve is also derailed by any minor barrier. So we realized we need to capitalize on the momentum and planning capabilities of Day Steve if we were ever going to pull this off.

So we came up with a few strategies to do so:

  1. He was still in Day Steve mode right when he got home from work so he decided he should put his workout clothes on right way after work, abolishing one potential barrier. And given he was already dressed, it made strategy #2 more feasible.
  2. To prevent Night Steve’s laziness from taking over, exercise needed to be initiated right away after family dinner. Steve recognized that if he sat for even a minute, Night Steve was going to start steering the ship. So he stayed in Day Steve mode just a little longer and went downstairs to exercise right after dinner. IMMEDIATELY after.
  3. Steve put a pair of tennis shoes right by the treadmill. Again, one more way to prevent Night Steve from throwing in the towel prematurely.
  4. He asked for his wife’s support and for the family to hold him accountable to his exercise goal to keep Day Steve encouraged and Night Steve at bay just a little longer.
  5. One of the things that Night Steve looked most forward to at the end of the day was catching up on his favorite shows. So as to not neglect Night Steve’s needs altogether, he watched one episode while on the treadmill to make the experience more enjoyable and to make it feel like he still had that time to himself.

Building self-trust

Shame, frustration, discourgament…all of these emotions come from future self not following through on what past self committed to doing.

According to behavior change specialist, Dr. Kyra Bobinet, self-trust is when your future self fulfills what your past self has designed for it. And self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or doing certain tasks, is established through multiple cycles of self-trust building.

Future self does the thing → builds self-trust → overtime, builds self-efficacy → solidifies healthy identity around the change!

So it is paramount to help future self be successful! So the next time you are wanting to capitalize on new learnings, motivations, or simply the desire to make change, build out a persona for your future self.  Create a dialogue with him/her. Ask them the following questions:

  • Does this feel right to you? If not, what reservations do you have?
  • Is what I am asking you to do feel too big?
  • How could I create this change without making you feel quite so uncomfortable?
  • What smalls steps could I take to make this easier for you?
  • Will you have energy to do this? If not, what feels more reasonable? How can I help energize you?
  • Will you be too busy to do this? If so, what can I take off your plate to make this seem less overwhelming?
  • How can I remind you that this is important to us?

Truly visualize yourself in future self’s shoes. Have empathy for future self. Then, and only then, can self-trust start to be established.

To read more about this concept, look into the work of Dr. Kyra Bobinet and her book.

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