NEW YORK — If you find yourself signing up for things that, in reality, you don’t want to do, you’re not alone.
It’s easier to commit to something that you’re ambivalent about as long as the event takes place in the future, said Dr Hal Hershfield, a professor of behavioral decision making and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Dr Hershfield has found that we often agree to things we don’t want to do because we tend to hold a more aspirational version of our “future selves” — we like to think we have more time, interests and generosity than we actually do.
Then the event approaches, the truth is revealed (we’re still the same person) and we’re stuck with a twinge of regret.
Use these strategies to set a more realistic schedule.
USE YOUR CURRENT SCHEDULE AS A GUIDE. An empty calendar, Dr Hershfield said, tricks us into “thinking that the future will be some magical land of free time.”
So before you commit to something a few months away, glance over the last two weeks of your schedule to give yourself a clear idea of how much time you usually have in a given week.
PRETEND THE COMMITMENT IS SOONER. If an event is months away, Dr Hershfield said, envision that it takes place next week, or the week after.
Would you commit? If the answer is no, it probably won’t feel any more enticing a few months from now, he said.
STILL WAFFLING? WEIGH THE COST. If you are ambivalent about an event, weigh the benefits by asking yourself a few questions. You might explore how saying yes fits into higher-level goals you have, like getting in shape or making more friends.
Or, Dr Hershfield said, you might ask if the thing you’re dreading is “a one-off event, or will it lead to other invitations?” Another good one: Will showing up be low stakes for you, while making a big difference for someone else? If it will, then the hassle may be worth it.
CODDLE YOUR FUTURE SELF. If you’ve committed to an event, or you know that life is going to become busy or stressful, be kind to yourself by practicing “pre-care.”
That is what the therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab calls the act of “creating practices that reduce future stress.”
“What can you do today to prepare for what’s ahead?” Ms Tawwab said. It could be carving out alone time or increasing the time you spend with friends.
What feels nurturing is different for everyone, Ms Tawwab said, but “you should avoid anything that does not seem delightful to you.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.