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Why untie your shoes?

  • 3 min read
Vienna, Austria
My parents have been happily married for over half a century. As I’ve gotten older and realized just how rare that is, I look to them for clues as to what magic is needed to cultivate such a functional, let alone playful, long-term relationship. Though there are many elements required, two of the most important are no mystery:
  1. Learn what makes them feel loved, appreciated, and supported.

  2. Keep doing those things for the rest of your life together.

Both are required because knowing someone's “love language” is very different from speaking it.

There are many ways each of us can make those we care for feel like we’re on their team. Let’s call them Acts of Care. Many are very small. Maybe it's kind words, maybe it's flowers, maybe it's notes, or simply doing the dishes. These Acts of Care may be small, but they build big trust — showing them, through our effort, that not only do we care for them, but that we’re really in this with them and have their back.

When these Acts of Care are absent or removed and someone feels like the other is no longer on their team, it reliably results in a relationship becoming dysfunctional or falling apart. This leads to a related question: Why are these small acts of care often absent from the longest relationship we’ll ever have: the one with ourselves?

Though we’ll spend the rest of our lives with ourselves, we rarely conceptualize this relationship like we would a long-term relationship with another. We often limit our consideration for our future self to what we want. We fail to consider what our future self will need, especially in the immediate future of tomorrow, or next week, like space, rest, or support. That’s where we tend to take shortcuts, and leave a mess.

Let’s take untying our shoes as an example. You come home rushed or exhausted and simply slide off your shoes. Now your future self will have to deal with the inconvenience of untying them when they’re trying to get to work in the morning. This may seem like a really small inconvenience, but this is just one of many sprinkled throughout your life.

Over the years, they add up. Also, we know our past self didn’t innocently forget, they simply couldn’t be bothered. It becomes easy to treat ourselves poorly when it feels like we’re stuck eternally cleaning up after our past self. So what can we do?

When we take some time to look, we can find simple ways in which we can show our future self that we are on their team. Ask yourself: What insignificant shortcuts am I taking that make life harder for the person I’m trying to be? What can I do now to make their life just a little easier then?

It begins by avoiding shortcuts like untying your shoes. This is not hypothetical. The few seconds it takes in the present to simply untie my shoelaces after training has had an outsized impact on my future self. I look down every morning now and remember my past self taking that time to do this for me when he was exhausted. He did this because he wants to support who I’m becoming, what I’m doing. I feel like he wants me to win, and I can’t help but appreciate the effort. It inspires me to be more like him, so I will be by doing something to support my future self.

A lot of the baggage that we carry about ourselves accumulated over time. We took small shortcuts that led to unfavorable conditions for who we are and our relationship to ourselves. The good news is we can use the reverse strategy for repairing that relationship.

Just as we’re keenly aware of all the shortcuts we take, we can also be aware of all the shortcuts we don't take when we easily could have. We drank water instead of Coke. We laid out the gym clothes before we went to bed. We cleaned up the kitchen before the next morning. We untied the shoes instead of sliding them off. We are acting out of care, over and over again.

This week, I invite you to think about three small ways in which you can show your future self that you care about them, that you’re on their team, and you want them to win.

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