Dec 21, 2022

It's okay to borrow from the future

Overcoming the perfection trap of mastery

We’ve all done it. Whether it’s skipping a workout, binging our favorite show, spending hours on social media, or eating past the point of enjoyment, we are bartering for some enjoyment now at the expense of our future self.

When we skip a workout we have to pay it back in the gym next time. When we binge watch, we not only feel depleted, we also incur an opportunity cost for the time lost. When we indulge our sweet tooth, we know we’re paying it back when our energy levels plummet.

I don’t know about you, but I often feel some type of way afterwards. Sometimes I take on so much “debt” in this way that I feel guilty. But one thing that I’ve learned as my mindfulness practice has strengthened is that it’s okay to borrow from the future.

One of the traps of mastery is a need (even a compulsion) for perfection. We want control of our emotions, our thoughts, our behaviors, and all other aspects of our lives. But our ability to adapt is so much more valuable than our ability to control. After all, we aren’t robots, we’re human beings.

We don’t have to fall into the perfection trap. Mastery doesn’t mean perfection, it means agency. It means cultivating the ability to respond intentionally instead of reacting out of habit. When we’re aware of the tradeoffs we’re making, then it becomes our choice.

There’s levels to it:

  1. Not being aware and being driven by habit (we are reactive)
  2. Having awareness but still being driven by habit (we are aware)
  3. Being aware and exercising choice (we are responsive)

Depending on the situation we might find ourselves between any of these levels. The path from habitual reactivity to responsiveness starts with practicing a mindful awareness.

Where in your life do you most often find yourself “borrowing from the future”? Set an intention to meet this moment mindfully:

  • Pay attention. What thoughts come up? What feelings do you notice?
  • Cultivate an attitude of patience, knowing that you are having a universal human experience.
  • Cultivate an attitude of nonjudgment, knowing that being caught in judgment clouds your ability to see clearly. Notice what judgments you have but avoid judging yourself for having them.

This exercise is about cultivating a mindful awareness, not controlling yourself or changing the outcome. Ironically, the less you strive for rigid control, the wider your locus of control you will grow. By freeing yourself from the habit of self-critical judging, you develop your ability see clearly the factors that are actually within your control.

Even if you can only muster this awareness for a single moment at first, over time your ability will strengthen. With practice, these seeds of attention, patience, and nonjudgment will eventually root themselves in you and come to fruition. And when they do, you can choose to respond in any way you like, whether that’s letting go of a habit that no longer serves you, or accepting the tradeoffs so that you can borrow from the future guilt-free.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Viktor E. Frankl

A portrait of Jameal Ghaznawi

Jameal Ghaznawi

Hi, I’m Jameal and I'm on a mission to help people and organizations on their path toward mastery. As a teacher and certified coach I help people increase their awareness, tap into their innate wisdom, and find creative ways forward. Find yourself at a sticking point? Let's grow together.