Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self

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.

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.

Ed Yong writing in The Atlantic

the science of putting it off

Chronic procrastination can feel like a character flaw, but a new study indicates that rather than lamenting your lack of will power, you can just blame your parents.

Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, surveyed pairs of identical and fraternal twins about their tendency to procrastinate and to set and meet goals, and their level of impulsiveness. Identical twins were much more likely to match answers than fraternals, showing that genetics plays a significant role in forming these habits. “Learning more about the underpinnings of procrastination may help develop interventions to prevent it,” study author Daniel Gustavson tells

Researchers also believe impulsiveness, which overlaps with procrastination tendencies, may have given our ancestors an evolutionary advantage by helping them focus on day-to-day survival rather than long-term goals. Procrastination could be a by-product of that thinking, showing how behavioral traits that evolved millennia ago can clash with the demands of modern life.

The Week Magazine

It's all about the long term

If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few (people) are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details. In some cases, things are inevitable. The hard part is that you don’t know how long it might take, but you know it will happen if you’re patient enough. So you can do these things with conviction if you are long-term-oriented and patient.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder

PS: The title of this post comes from the title of the first shareholders letter Bezos' sent in 1997.

Sailing into Adventure

Three Englishmen decided to sail across the English Channel on a whim and a 7-foot dinghy in May of 2011. Eleven hours later they greeted rescuers with cries of “Bonjour,” thinking they had reached the coast of France. But the trio had traveled just two miles from where they had launched their tiny boat. One of the rescuers told the media that the smallest of waves might have capsized them.

It’s easy to laugh at the young men. They only brought a single paddle with a bottle of wine on their big adventure. Yet how often we are likewise adrift, thinking only of the fun we'll have during our journey, unaware we are going nowhere?

Stephen Goforth