Bill & Ted’s Excellent Self-Improvement Tip

I recently finished reading the excellent book The Willpower Instinct, and the author brings up the concept that we perceive our future self as a stranger. This makes it tough to stick to self-improvement plans, because typically the work needs to be done now, but the beneficiary of that effort is this mysterious future self that our brains somehow do not identify with. I’ve been toying with some ideas for mental games to work around this.

The first one I titled “Servant of Your Future Self”, where the trick was to imagine yourself actually doing tasks that “future you” put you up to. Or to imagine how you would need to reverse engineer a desired goal, and then do those things. But the whole idea of being a servant just seems like it would all make the effort feel like drudgery.

Then it hit me: Bill and Ted already figured it out. I wish I could find the clip from the movie, but since I can’t I’ll have to describe it: Bill and Ted are in the police station, and they need Bill’s dad’s keys. The come up with the ingenious idea to remember to — in the future — go back in time before this present moment and leave the keys for themselves behind the potted plant right next to them. Bingo, they look behind the potted plant and there are the keys.

So the mental game to play is this: present-time you is in the process of doing the “leave the keys for yourself later” task that Bill and Ted did. Present-time you is actually a time-travelling version of yourself from your own future, back here to set your life straight so that intended outcome in the future can actually happen.

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