“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” — Abraham Lincoln
A friend of mine recently told me he was getting divorced from his wife of over 20 years. I wasn’t surprised at all. Over the past five years, I’ve watched this friend shift his belief system and identity. He’s not the same person he was five years ago. He doesn’t want the same things he wanted five, 10, or 20 years ago. His imagined future self no longer involves him being married to the woman he once believed he would be with forever.
My friend’s choice is his own. My interest as a psychologist is understanding how these things happen.
This article explains how our identity and goals are formed. It also shows how you can intentionally “slow boil” yourself into whoever you want to be. Indeed, we have all slow boiled into the person we are now and are actively slow-boiling into someone.
The question is: Who are you “slow-boiling” into? And are you slow-boiling into the person you really want to be? Eventually, the slow boil becomes a point of no return — and you’re no longer the same person.
Principles Of “Slow-Boiling”
“The stories of our lives, far from being fixed narratives, are under constant revision. The slender threads of causality are rewoven and reinterpreted as we attempt to explain to ourselves and others how we became the people we are.”— Gordon Livingston, MD
The following is a short-list of principles that lead us all into slow-boiling into the person we become.
- All behavior is goal-driven: Every behavior we engage in is to create an outcome. Small things like going to the bathroom are driven by an outcome. But even subconscious behaviors — like grabbing our cellphone without thinking about it — is to produce an effect, even if it’s just a dopamine release we’ve become addicted to.
- Human beings are drawn toward the future: It was long-believed by psychologists that all behavior was driven by our past — like one domino being toppled by the last. However, more and more, researchers are coming to believe that it is actually each individual’s view of their own future that drives everything they do. Your view of your own future drives what you do. At some point, my friend stopped seeing a future with his wife. This was a slow-boil.
- You’re not the same person you were five years ago: It’s common and lazy to assume that people don’t change. We all change, slowly over time. Just think about yourself for a minute — are you the exact same person you were five years ago? Do you see the world the same way? Do you believe in exactly the same things? Do you have exactly the same habits? Do you want exactly the same things? Chances are, the person you were five years ago wanted things you no longer want. Also, you probably have different priorities and focus than you had five years ago.
- Your future self is a different person than your current self: According to research by Dr. Hal Hershfield of UCLA, it’s important and powerful to view your future self as a different person. Most people overly focus on the concerns of their present self to the detriment of their future self. They over-spend and over-eat, indulging the desires of the current self. Your future self is going to want different things than your current self. Your future self is an acquired taste. You need to learn to want and focus on what your future self wants. You do that by imagining and thinking now about who you want your future self to be. According to research by Dr. Daniel Giblert of Harvard, most people assume that who they are right now is who they’ll always be. As he states, “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished.” Your future self will be more different than you presently imagine they will be. The reason is simple, according to Gilbert: 1) You don’t spend much time imagining your future self, and 2) you assume that your future self will be the same person you are today. Both are false. Your future self will be different, and the best way to predict who your future self will be is to actively imagine and design your chosen future self.
- Desires are trained and chosen, not innate:You become what you incessantly desire. And most people believe their desires are innate. Not true. Your desires are trained over time. They are acquired and developed. We like what we’re repeatedly exposed to. As Zig Ziglar said, “Your input shapes your outlook.” In psychology, there is a concept known as self-signaling, which means that your identity is based, in a large degree, on your behavior. Your identity is built by your behaviors. Doing something once isn’t usually enough to shift your identity — although it can be. Dr. BJ Fogg, the world’s leading expert on Habit Formation, has found that a single experience — if emotional enough — can create a new habit or addiction. Whether after one experience or repeated, if you do something enough times, you’ll want it more and more. It will become a bigger part of your identity and thus, a bigger part of your projected future. At some point, my friend stopped fueling his interest in his wife and instead, fueled other interests. Ultimately, we desire what we have chosen to desire. You get in life what you want, and you choose what you want, over time. Your desires are usually a slow-boil that you’ve fueled through repeated behavior.
- Whoever we become, we will justify it: From each person’s vantage-point, their own goals, interests, and desires are justifiable. This also should be questioned. Maybe what you want right now is something you shouldn’t want. At the end of the day — it all depends on the outcomes you want. But if you want certain outcomes, you will probably have to change your current desires, and instead, acquire the desires that will produce your desired outcomes. For example, if you want to be super healthy and fit, you need to outgrow your desires for junk food. And you can. You just need to train that desire and ultimately, change your identity. Rather than trying to justify your desires, which puts you on the defensive and closes your mind — be open. Be open to the idea that you could be wrong. Be open to the fact that you could have and want something better. Always be learning.
How To Intentionally “Slow Boil” Into Your Desired Future Self
“Only through imaging a future self with improved skills may we be able to motivate, plan, and execute the honing of skills through deliberate practice.” — Dr. Thomas Suddendorf, Dr. Melissa Brinums, and Dr. Kana Imuta
Here is a small and incomplete list of strategies for deciding and becoming a specific future version of yourself:
- Recognize that your future self will be different:Rather than assuming that your future self is the same person you are today, acknowledge the fact that they will be different. Your future self will be a different person. They’ll see the world differently than you see it now. They’ll want different things. They’ll have different priorities and habits. They’ll make decisions you wouldn’t make and, from your current vantage point, may not understand or want.
- Imagine and design your future self: Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Imagination is how you learn. It’s a skill that is usually stamped-out of kids as they age. But the most successful people in the world are the most imaginative. The only way to predict your future is by imagining what you want and then proactively committing to that future. Your level of “consciousness” as a person is based on your developed skill and ability to imagine and create different futures. Confidence is the ability to see something in your mind and create it. The question is: Are you being a “creator” in who you become as a person? Do you care enough about yourself to create yourself into someone better? Looking back on her life and career, the actress Lily Tomlin stated, “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.” Who do you want your future self to be? Don’t play small with this? Do you want them to be a millionaire? A highly successful entrepreneur? A spiritual leader? A simple and devoted family person? Get as specific as you can, because your view of your own future is the thing shaping everything you’re doing here-and-now.
- Your future self is your responsibility: Who you become in the future is your own responsibility. No one else’s. The “future” is your property. But if you don’t take ownership over your own future, then someone else will. We live in a world of extreme marketing and influence — you are currently being slow-boiled as we speak, even with this article. The question is: Does this article help you achieve your goals? If not, then it’s taking you some other way. Going “some other way” may be good, if it’s elevating your future self, although it could be diminishing it. The core point here is: Who you become in the future is your responsibility, and it is entirely up to you. Whatever you become, that’s on you. In 10 years from now, you’ll be someone. Are you going to randomly end-up there, based on whatever “culture,” the media, your friends, and random experiences shape you into? Or, are you going to curate your own experiences and learning based on the person you truly want to become?
- Fuel your desire: When you decide who you want to be, you must fuel that desire. If you don’t, it will fade. You must fuel your desire into a concrete commitment. You do this by 1) publicly committing to what you want. No more hiding. Are you serious about this or not? 2) changing your environment to match your goals. Remove all “inputs” that clearly contradict or distract from your chosen future self. Replace your “inputs” and “habits” with ones that will lead to your chosen future self. 3) Get accountability and mentoring to support you. The more accountability you have, the more consistent you’ll be. 4) Invest money into your goal in education, experiences, and relationships that will help you become your future self. 5) Write and affirm your dreams every single morning. 6) Take action first thing in the morning on your future self. Do what your future self would do, say what your future self would say. 7) Quickly recover when you “fail.” Of course, you’re going to make mistakes. The quicker you “recover” from your mistakes, the faster you’ll evolve out of old ways. You do this by being completely honest when you slip-up. Stop protecting your ego. If you’re going to grow into a bigger version of yourself, there is no room for ego. 8) Celebrate small victories, daily! 9) Measure your progress daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. 10) Have specific goals that you’re actively creating. 11) Refine your goalsevery 30–90 days. 12) Every 90 days, continue refining yourself and your process. Every 90 days, you’ll see that you’re no longer the person you once were.
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”— Alain de Botton
Exposure leads to curiosity, which can lead to behavior and identity. Your mind is a stage and you must control which “actors” (thoughts) you entertain and which you push-off stage. Your mind is a garden and you’re the gardener. You’re actively planting seeds every second of every day — which are bearing fruit.
Who are you becoming? Who are you “slow-boiling” into? Your future self is your choice. Your future self is your responsibility. You become what you desire, and you train your desires every day.
Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organizational psychologist and bestselling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work. His blogs have been read by over 100 million people and are featured on Forbes, Fortune, CNBC, Cheddar, Big Think, and many others. He is a regular contributor to Inc. and Psychology Today and from 2015-2018, he was the #1 writer, in the world, on Medium.com. He and his wife Lauren adopted three children through the foster system in February 2018 and, one month later, Lauren became pregnant with twins, who were born in December of 2018. They live in Orlando.
Image courtesy of Daniel Xavier.