The Three Selves

Creating a memorable and meaningful life takes effort and sometimes we can find our life slipping away in hours of wasted time. In her book, Off the Clock, time management author, Laura Vanderkam tells us this is in part due to lack of understanding about the three versions of the self.

  • The anticipating self
  • The experiencing self
  • The remembering self

The anticipating self is the part of you that has ideas, dreams and plans for the future. It thinks about what these experiences will be like and gets joy from anticipating all the fun you will have. It’s why we get joy from anticipating a vacation planned months from now.

The remembering self is the part of you that looks back on all of the memorable experiences in your life. It often recalls these moments with rose-colored glasses. These memories bring us joy.

The experiencing self is the challenge here. The experiencing self is the part of you that may be tired in the moment and doesn’t want to put forth the effort to get your shoes on, get in the car and get out the door. But when we indulge the experiencing self’s whining, we end up wasting time in meaningless activities that add nothing to the beauty and vibrancy of our lives. To combat this thinking, Vanderkam says,

“When I catch myself listening too much to the experiencing self…, I pause and try to remember that this is just one actor carrying on a monologue in what should be a three-actor play. Then I repeat a two-part mantra:

Plan it in.
Do it anyway.

“If my anticipating self wanted to do something, my remembering self will be glad to have done it. Indeed, my experiencing self may even enjoy parts of it. I am tired now, but I will always be tired, and we draw energy from meaningful things” (73).

It can be life-changing to recognize these three selves acting in our daily lives. I’ll bet you can think of a few times recently when you really didn’t feel like doing something and then had a great time once you did, can’t you? Vanderkam says she also tries to remember that all time passes. She says,

“Whether I do anything today or not, eventually I will be on the other side of the next twenty-four hours. It can be filled with ‘nothing’ (in this case, meaningless somethings), or it can be filled with something more intriguing.” (73)

The choice is yours. Use your knowledge of the three selves to plan things in your life that you will enjoy looking forward to, experiencing, and remembering.


What things would you like to plan this week or month that will give your anticipating and remembering self something to celebrate?

Choose two and plan them!

Some ideas: bike to the park for a picnic with friends, go to the library and come home with a stack of fun books, buy tickets to an upcoming theatre performance, volunteer part of your Saturday to help out at the food bank, pull out a board game to play with friends instead of watching tv.

Extra Quotes:

“The experiencing self resents this division of labor. So she throws a tantrum. She ignores the anticipating and remembering self and justifies her betrayal with statements that are certainly true: I’m tired….So I’ll just watch TV. Immediate effortless pleasure wins out over the more effortful variety” (Vanderkam 72). 

“We can anticipate for years. We can remember for decades” (Vanderkam 71).

References: Laura Vanderkam. Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting
More Done. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2018.

Author: Mini Gems for Kids

I live in Santa Barbara California with my husband and 3 kids. Reading is a favorite past-time and lifeline in my life. I feel giddy with excitement when I find valuable wisdom and inspiration in books. This is my space to share these life-changing lessons in bite-sized format for my kids. I believe with the right information, they can train their brains to think about life’s experiences in productive, positive and powerful ways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s