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Borrowing from the future: a toxic habit


Borrowing from the future is the root of all evil


If there is any single fundamental habit that gets and keeps us in more trouble than any other, it is the habit of “borrowing from the future.”


I see three fundamental ways in which we humans express this habit.


Borrowing satisfaction from the future—the most insidious and treacherous form of this habit


Anytime that we cannot honestly say to ourselves,  “I’m in love with this moment of my life,” then we’re likely borrowing from the future. We’re putting up with this moment and justifying it with the hope that some future moment is going to be better. We are asking our Now to tolerate for what our Next thinks is good for us.


Of course, if thinking about our future actually creates full satisfaction in this moment, then we’re not really borrowing from the future. If Now is okay and we're also having fun playing a game for a future result we'd like to have, then that even adds to Now being okay.


However, when we are thinking that life will be great when we just "get through this day," when we graduate from school, or change jobs, or get married, or have a baby, or get divorced, or retire, or discover our life passion, or so on, then we are borrowing from our future. When things will be okay or great sometime or someday, then we're bankrupting the present.


I wrote down a thought that captures the essence of breaking this habit: “Make love to this moment for it’s the only one you’ll ever have.”


Borrowing time from the future—the second most damaging form of this habit


We leave the dish in the sink to wash later. We leave the keys on the couch instead of putting them in their place. We leave a piece of paper on our desk instead of deciding what to do with it now. We say we’ll find time to exercise tomorrow instead of doing it today. We’ll approach that person we’re attracted to later. We’ll make that phone call we need to make later. We’ll tell our mother how much we love her later.


I have another thought that captures the essence of breaking this new habit: “Just pay the time now!”


Borrowing money from the future


Although the damage from this habit can be enormous, it does not begin to equal the damage caused, for most people, by the first two. Of these three ways of borrowing from the future, however, it is this one that is the most widely recognized and publicly acknowledged as a bad habit.


I do not want to suggest that it is never useful or appropriate to choose to borrow from the future in one or more of these three ways. If we clearly weigh the benefits and costs, possibilities and risks in a given circumstance, borrowing from the future may rarely be the best course of action.


However, for most of us, most of the time, we dig our grave with these behaviors because they have become our habitual way of living, usually without a lot of conscious awareness, removing a lot, if not all, of having money buffer in our lives.


Getting curious about how you indulge in one or more of these three toxic habits

Find and examine at least one example in your own recent past for each of these three ways of borrowing from the future.


Notice the fear you feel when you choose the courage, again and again, not to borrow from your future.



"Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone."

-Pablo Picasso (1881-1973, Spanish artist)


"The foolish person seeks happiness in the distance; the wise person grows it under his feet."

-James Oppenheim (1882-1932, American poet)


"First I was dying to finish high school and start college. And then I was dying to finish college and start working. And then I was dying to marry and have children. And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work. And then I was dying to retire. And now, I am dying … and suddenly I realize I forgot to live."


"I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

-Bonnie Ware (1967-, author of "The Five Regrets of the Dying.")

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