Monday, June 22, 2009 at 6:07PM
Who is going to control your destiny, the "past you" or the "present you?" 
Recently I've been drawn to the notion of how our actions are informed by our past, and how they impact our future. I've particularly found it helpful to think of myself as three people: my Past Self, Present Self, and Future Self. I haven't found a solid reference for this from psychology (I'm sure it's out there ), but I want to share my thinking, and to get your impressions.
The perspective I'm trying for is that of asking how well we treat them. What if someone could hear your conversations? Would they think you're a saint? A genius? A jerk? Let me give it a shot.
Talking to your Past Self
I can think of three reasons to visit the past: Nostalgia, self-esteem, and insight.
If a thought from the past gives you pleasure, then naturally spend some time with it. Well-made memories are a treasure. But limit yourself; the past is over. Treat those memories as something you take off the shelf, savor, then put back with respect. Warning sign: "That was the highlight of my life."
To treat your past self well, honor her. She did hard work to get you here, after all. Celebrate how courageous you were, how much you experimented and tried. No one else could have done it.
That said, I believe the highest use of the past is to learn, that is, to chew up experiences that turn your present self into an improved future one (more loving, smarter, or kinder, say). Productive use of the past is via debriefs (pointers in Personal Lessons Learned In 2008) and analyzing and capturing lessons learned. Hard-earned experience without capture and reflection is waste.
A special challenge I face in my relationship with the past is around doubt. Second-guessing your Past Self with questions like "Why did I do that?" or "Did I do the right thing?" is toxic and unproductive. It's disrespectful. To combat this, renew trust that you made the best choice given current information. Blaming our past selves for not knowing what we know now - for not knowing the future, in other words - is absurd. A constructive way to handle these thoughts is to detach a bit from that person. He tried something (hear hear!) and got some information. It's your job to integrate that. Be grateful.
Talking to your Present Self
Clearly most mental effort should be in the present. Do you agree? It stands to reason - this moment is your only decision point , your only chance to affect the future. This is when you put your lessons learned into play through enlightened choice. You know that list of tasks your Past Self created? Work them. You see that blocked out project time on your calendar? Use it.
Watch your task appetite, though. You want it all (that's human nature), and you can only do one thing at a time (that's human circuitry), but take care how much you defer to your future self - it's easy to overload that person coming up.
This is also your sole chance to celebrate your accomplishments. Zipping right past them without giving a little cheer is a lost opportunity for happiness. Come on - you rocked! Warning sign: A culture that asks "What's next? Let's keep moving, people!" without pausing. "The best is yet to come" might tell you something too.
Reflection takes place here. This is when you connect where you planned to be, what your current goals are, and what new actions will take you there.
Finally, watch your self-talk. This is probably the most common self-help concept on the planet, but I honestly haven't found a book or idea that's been helpful. A popular one is Shad Helmstetter's What to Say When you Talk To Yourself. Any suggestions?
Talking to your Future Self
A final crucial activity is how you prepare your Future Self. What kind of gifts can you give? I admit it - I love this category. I'm an information collector and prospector. I capture all but the tiniest tidbit that might be valuable. News stories, interesting phrases, cool job descriptions, and especially blog ideas, product ideas, and new ways to help clients. Yum!
For productivity, pay attention to planning (see Simple Project Planning For Individuals: A Round-up). Look ahead in your calendar to see what you might need for all the projects coming his way, and pave the way. Do this by working back from due dates and working out hours needed to accomplish each one on time. Consider blocking out time for specific ones, as I described in Testing The Classics: A Time Management Experiment: Time Blocking. He will thank you, trust me.
Books deserve a special mention. They're an investment and a resource for when the time comes for needing that knowledge. I know that I can't know it all (anti-knowledge is a strength), and these books represent an act of faith that my future self will need them some day. It's a kind of preparation for the unknown, I suppose. Much more in On Keeping An Umberto Eco-like Anti-Library, especially in the incredibly insightful comments.
A practical note: Preparations can save yourself a ton of work. For example, my internet connection went out at home. It was frustrating, especially due to poor timing. After the standard stages - denial, anger, etc., I consulted my notes from the last time it happened , and fixed it in 5 minutes! Hooray past self!
To enable these conversations, keep a log of what you did, decisions made (see A Key To Continuous Learning: Keep A Decision Log), and your thinking at the time. This journal is what you'll mine for insights.
What do you think? What are your tricks and methods for working with yourselves? I'm curious!
-  From Seize the Day!: How to Best Use What Can't Be Replaced - Time by Michael F. Woolery.
-  Do you have a good reference for this perspective? The best ones I could find weren't great hits. They are: The One Self and the Many Selves, Exploring Perspectives on the Past, Present and Future, Handbook of Imagination and Mental Simulation, and Possible Selves (the latter two Google Book previews). Perhaps most interesting (if tangential) is Genograms: "Seeing the family in its historical perspective involves linking past, present, and future and noting the family's flexibility in adapting to changes." Check out Genograms: Assessment and Intervention. Page 65, Genogram 3.2 shows Bill Clinton's Family. What engineer wouldn't love such a diagram?
-  The Mission Control people call this a "Series of Nows" - see A GTD-er's Perspective On Mission Control's "Productivity And Accomplishment" Workshop.
-  Don't have a good note-taking flow or filing chops? Give me a call!