One of my favorite TV quotes – gasp, I watch mindless television! – is from How I Met Your Mother.
Main characters Ted and Marshall, when faced with an insurmountable problem, such as when the kitchen sink is clogged, often say to each other, “This seems like a problem for future Ted and Marshall.”
Cue the laugh track and the two buddies continue to play video games until the show cuts to the next scene, which invariably plays out the repercussions of not dealing with the problem head-on.
But who cares? It’s a sitcom, and we want the characters to put themselves in situations with hilarious consequences.
However, this little comedy quip, while funny, trivializes life. It’s a microcosm of the human desire to mortgage the future on the present. That is, to take the path of least resistance and put off the pain ’til tomorrow.
Your Future is a Compound Effect
The pain could be anything, really.
Maybe you want to get in shape, but you don’t want to start going to the gym, and you therefore put off your workout routine until “tomorrow.”
Or perhaps you want to save for retirement, but the pain you feel from a reduced income while you build up your 401(k) is too much. Instead, you tell yourself that you’ll start saving “tomorrow.”
But, as I’m sure you know, when tomorrow comes, you push off the pain to yet another day, and then another, and another. Before long, you’ve lost the motivation to start at all.
Ironically, or maybe coincidentally, the only way you can achieve that long-term goal is to start “today.”
The only way you’re going to get in shape is to invest in 90-days of exercise and healthy eating.
The only way you’re going to retire is if you take advantage of compound returns and invest in your 401(k) every paycheck.
Success, then, doesn’t come as a far off point that you eventually find or stumble over. No, it’s the summation of intentional daily habits. It’s the result of compounding daily wins.
Therefore, the only way you can manifest your desired future is to treat every day as if you were living it. How would someone live their life if they were healthy and in shape? How would someone conduct themselves if they had fiscal control over their life?
If you want it, start by living it.
But that doesn’t mean the pain won’t be there.
Everything in the Universe has an equal and opposite reaction, right? So, it stands to reason that your compounding success will be juxtaposed with the blood, sweat, and tears that come from waking up every day, ignoring the resistance, and investing in your intentional actions.
A Simple Example
Whenever I think about my future, I’m reminded of a 401(k). The benefit of a retirement account, besides the taxes, is that you can’t touch your money while it grows at a compounded rate.
So, if you put a dollar in your 401(k) and don’t touch it for 30 years, and assuming a 10% annual return, you’d have over $17 dollars in 30 years. This is because the first year you earn $0.10, and then the second year you earn 10% on $1.10 instead of $1.00, which brings you to $1.21, and so on.
Sorry, I know that this isn’t supposed to be a math or finance lesson. But it explains the idea of a compounding future, so forgive me.
It highlights the need to start now, rather than later. Every year you wait to start investing in your retirement reduces the power of compounding returns, giving you less money in the long-term.
And it doesn’t stop with finance. Everything you do in your life has compounding returns.
That future you want? Yeah, it’s best you start now if you want to enjoy it in this lifetime.
Don’t Sacrifice the Present Either
Woah, woah, just a second. Isn’t this a personal development blog? Doesn’t that mean the present moment is more important than the future? All the self-improvement gurus say it is.
You’re right, it is.
Which means two things.
One, if your future is the summation of your compounding actions, then each action in the exact moment it’s happening is the most important. Because it will eventually result in your idyllic future. So, in a sense, the present is the most important because it creates your future.
But two, it also means that it is the most important, regardless of future. If you’re not content with your present, you probably won’t be content with your future, either. It’s a matter of internal state. You have to be satisfied with what you have, every day.
The achievement of that is the end of suffering, as Tony Robbins would say. It’s bliss, as practicing Buddhists would agree.
So, in essence, the point of life is to actually enjoy the present moment. To be content with what’s happened, what’s happening, and what’s going to happen.
But, ironically, one of the ways we enjoy the present is by working toward a better future. Human’s want, and need, forward progress. If movement isn’t being made, the present often becomes stagnant.
So maybe the future is actually the most important… No, I think not, it’s the present. But the future is the collective whole of all your present moments. So maybe it is…
I think the point, and correct me if I’m wrong (seriously, in the comments section), is contentment.
But, to be content, you have to truly appreciate the present moment, and at the same time, like the direction your life is headed.
So, wherever you want your life to go, you might as well start now. You owe it to your present, and future, self.