I often think about what I was like as a teenager and cringe. I think most people do. It's easy to look back on our past selves and realise how much we have changed. What's interesting is that we don’t tend to forecast the same amount of change in our future selves. 

This paradox is what journalist Shankar Vedantam calls the ‘The Illusion of Continuity’. The belief that we are going to be the same person in the future despite the overwhelming evidence of how much we’ve changed in the past. We don’t imagine that our future selves are going to have different hopes, views and perspectives as we do today.

Here’s a thought experiment called The Ship of Theseus or the ‘Theseus Paradox’ - The great warrior Theseus returned from battle and his ship was left in the harbour as a memorial. After decades the ship began to fall apart and rot so each plank and pole was replaced until there was nothing of the original ship left.

If every part of the Ship of Theseus is new then is it still the Ship of Theseus? 

We’re walking examples of The Ship of Theseus. 

Biologically we are a completely different person from who we were 10 years ago. Our cells renew and replace themselves constantly. It is the organisation of the cells that gives the illusion of being in the same body. On a psychological level each new layer that is put down is different from the one before so we are forever becoming a new person.

As I walked out of the house this morning I grabbed a couple of my old diaries to see exactly how different life is. On April 14th 2013 Matt and I spent the day driving to Heronswood Gardens & Nursery, in Dromana. Our sole mission was to get some exotic vegetable seeds for our freshly dug garden in our North Melbourne Flat. We didn’t have any kids, mortgages or businesses. We stopped in Keysborough and brought some Oil Skin Fabric so Matt could sew himself a jacket! Life was quaint by the sounds of it.

On April 14th 2003 I was incredibly hungover after spending the entire previous day drinking. I worked at Parliament doing data entry for $10 an hour (under the table) and I did a ‘bit of homework’ for uni. This Jess had no idea that in ten years time she’d be living in Australia. In 20 years time she’d have a couple of Australian kids with her Australian husband and own a couple of businesses. 

I didn’t have a diary in 1993 so I just grabbed the earliest entry I could find which was July 4th 1994. I was 11 and on holiday with my family in Gisborne. I had to sit in the back seat in between my brother and sister so they wouldn’t fight in the car. We played in the snow on the Rimutakas and stayed at the Waikanae Holiday Park - we got lost because Dad used the maps alot and we ended up on a Beach Road (which my Dad is notorious for finding when we’re lost).

Reflecting back on these times in my life it is really obvious how much I’ve changed. We have to. With every new layer that replaces an old one we are growing and morphing into a newer version of ourselves. What we need to remember is that our current selves don’t represent the end of history. We imagine that it's going to be more of the same and that's not the case. In ten years from now we’ll look back at ourselves and hopefully not be perplexed by what our current selves are up to.

Shankar Vedantam had three pieces of advice to avoid our future selves looking back on us with contempt…

  1. Be curious. Play an active role in creating the person you’re going to become. Be curious. Expand your horizons. Who knows what future you will be into.
  2. Practice humility. What we believe today might not be true tomorrow. While we express our thoughts and views on the world today it might very well be our future selves that cringe at what we currently believe. Be humble.
  3. Be Brave. Don’t limit your future self by what your current self is capable of. What you can’t do today you can do tomorrow.

It’s exciting to think that we’re constantly being rebuilt both biologically and psychologically. It goes to show that the only limitations we have are the ones we put on ourselves. I hope that future Jess from the year 2033 will look back at the life I’m living now and be pleased.

Video of the week
You Don’t Actually Know What Your Future Self Wants | Shankar Vedantam | TED
Podcast of the week
The Futur: The Pursuit of Happiness with Vince Lebon
Font of the week
Gosh: Font of the week by Very Cool Studio

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