Reruns of How I Met Your Mother appear on my television at least eight times a week. I am new to the show since I am usually working in the library when it comes on in prime time. So now I’m catching up on the adventures of Ted, Marshall, Barney, Lily, and Robin. The episode last night had Robin contemplating moving in with her boyfriend and Barney deciding that he wanted her back. Ted gave him some advice: To keep making bad relationship mistakes over and over again, when you break up, write a letter to your future self, explaining all the good reasons the relationship ended. Now, of course, by the end of the episode, both Barney and Ted had ignored this advice. But I still thought it made sense.
During finals week of any semester, there is a great deal of gnashing of teeth and promising to change:
- Next time, I’ll start my paper earlier and not be asking the librarians to help me find sources 3 hours before the paper is due.
- Next semester, I’ll do my math homework every night.
- Next time, if I fail the first test, I’ll see my instructor or a tutor immediately.
- Next semester, I’ll schedule three hours each Sunday afternoon to keep up with my web course.
And so and so on. In fact, I’m guessing that the only time there are more promises to change is right before a potential diagnosis: “If I don’t have heart disease, I’ll never eat a French fry again.”
But in many cases, these promises do not result in needed change, mostly because the past is easily forgotten and the temptation of the now is so alluring. And you know we’ve all done this. We come home after a day of work or classes. We have to decide between sitting on the sofa watching some television or doing some homework. Watching television is just the sort of low-stress activity that would feel great. Doing homework would be painful and not fun. And we think that we can always catch up on homework tomorrow or the next day or the day after that.
So that’s why the equivalent of the “Dear Future Me” letter can help in such cases. To write a vivid description of why things are going wrong now and what can be done to avoid it might just work. For my past academic history it might have gone something like this:
Dear Future Jolly Librarian:
Next semester, when you decide to put off writing your paper until the last night, think of yourself tonight: Your blood pressure is high. You have a headache. You want to sleep so bad you could cry. But you can’t because your paper, which is worth 40% of your grade, is due at 8 in the morning and there are no exceptions. Your stomach hurts from the stress and you are going to have walk across the quad alone at 3 a.m. to get back to the dorm. It is a stupid thing to do. Nothing, and I mean nothing is worth this.
Present Jolly Librarian
And now since every phone has video capability, you can actually record your wretched self in the misery caused by your procrastination. Then any time that you want to delay writing that paper or doing that math homework,you can play your video on your phone as a reminder of the grim future ahead of you.
Hey, it’s worth a try.