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The 5-minute Exercise That Stopped Me from Procrastinating

What is ‘Episodic Future Thinking’ and how it works


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

When I was in college, my friends used to call me ‘last-minute Matt’…

…not for noble reasons, but for my consistency when it came to procrastinate. I’d postpone studying or writing essays until the very last minute, achieving sub-par grades.

Among the many reasons pushing me to procrastinate, there was something I would discover only years later: I was totally disconnected from my future self.

The Matt who had to pick up textbooks and focus on them, wasn’t the same Matt that two years later graduated. At least, that was how my mind was sabotaging my future.

Fast forward to when I started understanding my procrastination, one of the psychologists I interviewed for Finish What You Started told me how to connect to my future self, making sure I would take responsibility for him.

Enters Episodic Future Thinking.

EFT is the capacity to imagine or simulate experiences that might occur in one’s personal future (Schacter, et al. 2017). Studies on EFT have found that it improves a wide range of dynamics: from decision making to emotion regulation, intention formation, and planning. EFT helps us connect to our future selves. It allows our brains to focus on long-term, larger rewards, channeling our actions to achieve THOSE instead of short-term rewards (usually distractions).

Quoting Schacter et al. “Typically, future rewards are devalued in relation to the extent of delay (i.e., temporally discounted), often leading to shortsighted choices of the smaller reward option. However, when people simulate consuming the larger reward, they become more patient and shift to favoring this more farsighted choice.

The more your imagination is vivid, the better you can connect with your future self. And the better you are connected to your future self, the easier will be to take care – and responsibility – for that person. Because, after all, it’s always you that will be facing any decision you take in the present, whether it’s a good or a bad one.

But how does EFT work?

I actively used it when I was writing Finish What You Started. Here’s what I did:

  • Sit down with no distractions, no phone, no TV.
  • Set my mind to the future, 6 months after the book was published.
  • Visualize my future self. How do I feel? Am I happy that my book is finally out and people are reading it?

And here’s the most important part:

  • What am I wearing? How does the texture of the clothes feel on my skin? Do I look slightly older? Does my beard feel crispy or I’m perfectly shaven? Am I tired, because I’ve just come back from running? What can I smell? Am I in the same flat, or have I moved to a larger apartment? Is the sun getting in from the windows?

As the psychologist emphasized, the key is to focus on those small details (it’s just an example of course, but feeling my beard/shaven skin with my hand really helped me with the visualization).

I did this exercise once a week while working on the book. The result I got is that whenever I opened my laptop and started writing, I knew I was doing it for the happiness of that guy. The future me.

What goal are you working towards? Can you set 5 minutes every week to sit down alone with no distractions and visualize your future self? 
I hope you can, because it will magically put you on the right path.