We all know the concept of paying it forward. When someone does something for you, instead of paying it back to that person, you instead do something for another person. By doing this, the good deed spreads around the community instead of being constrained between two parties.

What is another person, exactly? A good definition is: someone other than yourself. This could be a neighbor, a friend, a family member, or even a complete stranger. But think about this: are you the same person ten years ago? Do you think that you will be ten years from now? Perhaps we can extend the definition to include you from the past or the future.

By that same logic, we can apply the concept of paying it forward, to ourselves. Specifically, we pay it forward to our future self.

The Immediacy Trap

It is very easy for us to think only in the short term. The immediate rewards and pleasures in the present is too much to resist. Even if we know that these can sometimes harm us in the future, we still do them. Why?

We think that that person in the future is not us. We look at our future self the same way we look at a stranger. Why would I care, and give it to that person, rather than enjoy it today?

This is why the concept of paying it forward is powerful in this context. Looking back, are you grateful or annoyed at your past self? Chances are, if you are grateful, your past self has done something that improved your life in the present. Why would we then deny that same gift to our future self?

And if you are annoyed or frustrated at your current situation, you say “I should have…“, or “I should not have done…“. These are all directed at your past self. And this is indeed a frustrating place to be in as we cannot change our past, no matter how hard we try.

Connecting the dots backwards

One of my favorite quotes on this topic was from Steve Jobs:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.

Right now we might not even see the effects of our actions and habits. But as time goes on, and you eventually become your future self, the path you took and why you are in your current situation becomes clearer.

We live by leaning into the future. Time passes by and we cannot stop it nor slow it down. Our only destination is our future self, and what we do in the present has an impact on what our life could be in the future. Given that, it makes sense to make sure we give ourselves a chance of a better life than the other way around.

Below are some examples on how we can pay it forward to ourselves.


When you go into debt, you are essentially getting money from the future. You get to enjoy the benefits now, while leaving your future self to pay for the bill. Some debt, if used properly, can be an effective tool in investing, but most of the time debt leads to negative consequences. In addition, debt usually carries with it an additional cost in terms of interest payments, so your future self gets an even shorter end of the stick.

The opposite of debt is saving and investing money whenever you can. When you start investing and growing your money at an earlier date, the magic of compounding kicks in. This results in a better financial standing, and the means to survive the bad times when they eventually happen. So when you receive a salary increase, a cash gift, or any financial windfall, make sure to save some for your future self!

Financial habits

Habits take both consistency and time to take root. As such, the earlier you start developing them, the easier it is to do and at the same time, the greater the results. Here are some financial habits you can develop:

  • Always live below my means
  • My happiness will not depend on material things
  • I will enjoy the fruits of my labor

The first two makes sense in order for us to save and grow money, but the last one seems a bit off. Enjoying the fruits of your labor often entail some form of cost, which is the opposite of saving. This cost, however, ensures that you do not sacrifice your future well-being in exchange for more money.

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

Matthew 16:26 NLV

It is not bad to work hard, to grind and set yourself up for success. But as with most things, this can be done excessively. Today we see the results of this as an epidemic of depression, burnout, and frequent bouts of loneliness. To combat this, we need to make sure we work to live, instead of living to work.

Knowledge and Skills

If there is a treasure that we can truly keep and can’t be stolen, knowledge and skills would be one of them. Knowledge is not limited to what we can experience in our lifetime. Human knowledge is accumulated and distilled through many generations and through countless effort. And the best thing about it is you don’t need to live your life multiple times to gain the skills and perspective that spans centuries.

The habit of reading

Perhaps the most common, and still the most efficient way of gaining knowledge and skills is through books. Today, books come in several formats, each having its own advantage depending on how one chooses to consume them. You can read a physical book in paper or through an electronic reader. You can even listen to it through audio, or watch a video adaptation, complete with illustrations and diagrams.

Regardless of the format in which we consume its contents, the important thing is to be a reader. Studies show that starting the habit of reading at an early age enables a child to be more successful in the long term. If the child is still unable to read, reading books to them stimulates their brain and makes them more likely to be readers when they grow up.

Even if you are much older now, it is never too late to start the habit of reading. You can even incorporate it into your daily routine by listening to audiobooks while doing manual tasks.

Learning how to learn

Establishing a habit of reading is just a subset of a more important habit: the habit of learning. Most people give up learning new things as they seem overwhelmed at the amount of information that they need to take. It may also seem too difficult and time-consuming. However, nothing of worth comes easily. We need to push through and keep learning even though we may feel frustrated at our progress.

In the end, even if we find that we do not want to pursue the thing we are studying, this is not wasted time. Knowing what you don’t want to do is just as important as knowing what you want to do. You gain clarity on the things that ignite your inner fire. This points you in the right direction and as a result, can make your progress faster.

Why do we need continuous learning?

You may not immediately feel the impact of your increased skills and knowledge, but if you maintain the habit of learning, your future self will reap the rewards.

  • Opens up career opportunities – the deeper your skills are in a field, the higher your value will be in the marketplace. If you prefer to instead accumulate a wide range of skills, your career mobility will greatly increase and multiply the number of opportunities you can take.
  • Financial growth – as you have more market value, this mostly translates into higher monetary rewards, and make it easier to achieve your financial goals.
  • Help find your “life career” – the secret to a fulfilled life is doing what you are meant to do in this world (or at least what you think). By exploring different things, we get closer to finding out the thing that we love to do, what we are good at, what others find useful, and at the same time, can also be a source of income. In short, finding your ikigai.


One quote that stuck with me through the years with regards to relationships was:

The older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

I didn’t realize this truth as deep as when my sister passed away. After her death, the company she worked at made a tribute article for her, which was greatly appreciated. As the months went on, however, you just know that everyone in the company had moved on. But her family, especially her sisters, still feel the pain.

Does it make sense then, to give ourselves so much to our work, to the detriment of our family and relationships? Many years into the future, would your future self look back and say, “I wish I worked harder on that project?“. If not, what would be the likely question you will ask yourself then?


Perhaps the most overlooked but a very important way to pay it forward to yourself is taking care of your health. Your health is the cornerstone in which other aspects of your life rest upon. Without your health:

  • your career will suffer as you will not be able to work effectively
  • money can be tight due to the above, in addition to medical expenses
  • relationships with your family can be strained because of your poor health
  • you will lack the energy to learn and improve your skills

When you are younger, you feel invincible. Your body can withstand the abuse and recover much faster. You feel like your vices don’t affect you that much. However, that only defers the cost of these actions into the future. And it is your future, your older self, that definitely foots the bill.

The beauty about consciously paying your health forward is, compared to the other categories, you can enjoy its benefits in the present. When you eat healthy foods and avoid bad ones, you feel more energetic and ready to take on life. After you exercise, your body secretes hormones that make you feel good. And so, we get the best of both worlds by enjoying good health in the present and in the future:

  • Eating healthy makes you more accustomed to good food, which makes it easier to avoid bad ones moving forward.
  • Regular exercise keeps the body moving and healthy and saves you many years of aches and pains as you grow old.
  • Staying healthy gives you more time to work and pursue your life’s work.
  • You save money by reducing or eliminating maintenance medications.

The above is not an exhaustive list of the things we can do to pay it forward to our future selves. It can serve as a guide though on areas which we can immediately start with. Kindness is a natural human trait. We love to give back to others who have done good to us before. We help others in need as part of the community. But sometimes this kindness does not extend to our own selves. Paying it forward to yourself is a way to transport this kindness into the future, with an effect that will reverberate for the rest of your life.

Photo by NEOSiAM 2021

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