Sam Holstein

One Year From Now, Will Your Life Be Better Or Worse?

Most of us don’t know if we’re heading for a better future. We’re just hoping we are. We go to work, go to the gym, run errands, and live our lives making ad-hoc efforts to improve things, hoping at some point it will pay off.

But we don’t have to live our lives hoping things will be better a year from now. There’s a way we can know. It’s really easy. All you have to do is ask yourself the following question, and answer honestly and thoroughly:

Does what I’m doing right now make my life one year from now better or worse?

If what you’re doing makes your future better, your life will be better. If it’s making your future worse, your life will be worse. It’s that simple.

If you want to do a more detailed analysis:
1. Make a list of every activity you do on each day of the week, from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. (Include sleep).
2. Next to each activity, write either “worst”, “worse”, “better”, or “best”, depending on its effect on your future.
3. For “worst”, give yourself -2 points. For “worse”, -1. For “better”, 1, and “best”, 2.
Why no 0-point option? Because no matter what you are doing, you are always either improving or harming your future. There are no neutral actions.
When you’re done: Tally up your score. Your total reflects the magnitude of how much better or worse your life will likely be across all areas.

Some readers might say this heuristic is overly simple. It’s not like we can see the future, after all. Things are more complicated than that.

To them, I would say: Yes, okay, it’s true that we can’t predict everything. Life comes with surprises. But just because we can’t predict every detail, doesn’t mean we can’t predict the general trends. Weathermen can’t predict whether it will rain on any particular day, but weathermen can predict whether the temperature will be closer to 70 degrees than to 10. We don’t need to know all the details; if the weatherman says it will be closer to 10 degrees, we know all we need to know.

When asking yourself “Does what I’m doing right now make my life better or worse,” there are no hard-and-fast answers. There are no rules about what kinds of things are “better” and what kinds are “worse.” The right answer depends entirely on what you want out of life.

But, there are things that people usually want out of their life, like good health, enough money to retire, and satisfying relationships. Likewise, there are things that are usually better or usually worse for your future:

  1. Studying for your exams is usually better, because studying helps you get good grades, which opens up opportunities later in your career.
  2. Getting high and watching Rick and Morty is usually worse, both because cannabis kills off brain cells and because binge-watching Hulu is terrible for you.
  3. Going to the gym is usually better because exercise helps you live a higher-quality life for a longer period of time.
  4. Social media is usually worse for your future, because social media makes you anxious and depressed and takes up your valuable time.

That being said, these are just generalizations. And for every generalization, there is an exception:

  1. If, between work and school, you are so overworked you are barely managing four hours of sleep, studying at the expense of sleeping will make your future worse.
  2. If you have been working sixty-hour workweeks and struggling with anxiety all the while, getting high and watching Rick and Morty will help you finally relax, making your future better.
  3. If you go to the gym too frequently, you risk injuring yourself and creating pain for yourself later in life, i.e. making your future worse.
  4. If you have family or loved ones all across the world, using social media keeps you in touch with these people, making your future better.

Ultimately, you can’t rely on a canned rule about what is going to be better for your future or not. You have to figure it out for yourself.

But, if you’re having trouble figuring it out, you can ask yourself this follow-up question:

“Has doing this in the past made my life better today?”

For example, imagine you…

Past performance is a great indicator of future performance. In other words: If something hasn’t brought you good things in the past, it’s not likely to start bringing you good things in the future.

There are some things this heuristic can’t predict. In the next year, you could need wisdom tooth surgery. Your partner could cheat on you. You could contract bacterial meningitis and die. But these are disaster scenarios, and they only happen a few times in a lifetime. And chances are, none of these things are going to happen to you in the next 12 months.

Meaning, the only thing that is likely to affect your life a year from now — the only thing worth worrying about — is what you choose to do with it. If you do things that make your life better, your life will be better. If you do things that make your life worse, your life will be worse. End of story.