Those who have spent some time around the Plastiq offices have probably heard me refer to one of my favorite alter egos – “Past Dan” and “Future Dan“. It all started as a joke when a co-worker and I were digging through some old code, and I just couldn’t decipher why I’d written it that way.
“Past Dan must have been out of his mind when he wrote this,” I mused. Laughs all around.1
Since then I’ve been increasingly using the monikers to refer to both decisions or actions that I made in the past (Past Dan) and things that I’ll have to deal with in the future (Future Dan).
Examples of usage include:
- “Hmm… we can leave that one for Future Dan to figure out.“
- “Well, Past Dan clearly didn’t know what he was talking about.“
- “Alright! Looks like Past Dan already covered that case in the documentation here.“
Over time, I became aware of an additional psychological benefit that arose from referring to my past and present selves as separate individuals.
You see, in particular when I had made a mistake or a poor decision in the past, or when I was considering a problem or stress that I would need to face in the future, mentally assigning those to the “past” and “future” versions of myself – as distinct from the present version – allowed my present conscience to deal with situations more objectively and rationally.
Said another way, it wasn’t really my fault when Past Dan did something wrong, so it was easier to consider what I could learn from his mistakes rather than regret or dwell on the past. And Future Dan’s concerns weren’t really my problem, so I could avoid worrying about them until I became Future Dan.
Now, some might say that this is just artificial mental trickery, but I believe there’s actually some truth in the distinction. The present version of myself isn’t the same person as Past Dan or Future Dan, because I’ve experienced new things, learned, and grown since I was Past Dan, and – by the same token – I haven’t yet experienced the things, learned the lessons, or discovered the information that Future Dan will have. Time changes us all, and it’s unfair for us to equate who we were with who we will be.
Instead, let’s focus on the present versions of us and what they can do today. Don’t dwell on the past and don’t worry about the future. I’d encourage you to try this little mental trick and discover your past and future alter egos too!2