(21) Self-Control and the Judgment of Our Future Self

Exploring the nature of self-control, the connection it has to empathy, and the picture we have of our ideal self. Reading from The Atlantic article “Self-Control is Just Empathy with Your Future Self” by Ed Yong. We can think of self-control as the “present” you taking a hit in order to help out the “future” you. You don’t eat cake today, so you weigh less next month, you study today so you can have a better job next year, the examples are endless.

When conversing about people, we are always being driven by a desire to understand the why and how of particular actions. “Why did I do that, it’s not like me, or why did they do that, I’d have never expected it.” We are all made up of many stories, listen to learn more about how we can increase our understanding of self-control and judgment, and stimulate empathy for our future selves.

Press your right index finger to the top of your right ear, where it meets your head. Now move up an inch and back an inch. You’re now pointing at your right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ). This area has long been linked to empathy and selflessness. But Soutschek, by using magnetic fields to briefly shut down the rTPJ, has shown that it’s also involved in self-control.



Which makes perfect sense. Empathy depends on your ability to overcome your own perspective, appreciate someone else’s, and step into their shoes. Self-control is essentially the same skill, except that those other shoes belong to your future self—a removed and hypothetical entity who might as well be a different person. So think of self-control as a kind of temporal selflessness. It’s Present You taking a hit to help out Future You.”

“When conversing about people and ourselves, there’s almost always at the core of it a desire for understanding the why and how of a particular action. We become prophetic armchair philosophers and psychologists, pedantically excoriating the behavior of others and/or ourselves, exclaiming “how could she?!” or “but that just isn’t the real me!” with varying degrees of emotional hysteria depending on the consequences and emotional bonds involved.

In either case, the entirety of the analysis is based on a feeling of separation, whether that be between us and the other or between the “ideal I” and the “actual I” of our personal narrative. The separation between people, or between our mind’s “I” and our body’s behavior, leads to shame over our actions or projected judgment about another’s, coating the entirety of the situation in a miasma of unfortunate and needlessly painful recrimination.”

Ego is A Point of Reference, Not A State of Being”: 

The Atlantic article tells us that “impulsivity and selfishness are just two halves of the same coin, as are their opposites restraint and empathy. Perhaps this is why people who show dark traits like psychopathy and sadism score low on empathy but high on impulsivity. Perhaps it’s why impulsivity correlates with slips among recovering addicts, while empathy correlates with longer bouts of abstinence. These qualities represent our successes and failures at escaping our own egocentric bubbles, and understanding the lives of others—even when those others wear our own older faces.”

2 Ways to Stimulate Empathy with Your Future Self

  1. Reflect on a situation through a multi-Value lens
  2. When telling a story/narrative about yourself or another’s actions, set out to tell three different stories that explain it and make one ridiculous (holding thoughts lightly)

Further Reading:

Human Nature: An Issue of Inheritance – We have not inherited a life of narrow meaning, we have been brought into this world with the capacity to see a purpose in everything we do.

Empathy: How We Form Our Relationships – Relationship as a foundational quality to reality manifests within humanity through this imagination/empathy mechanism. Empathy never stops. Whether we consciously acknowledge its continued presence or not, the flow of our relational lives will change what behavior we manifest.