How much are you indulging in non-future-optimal behaviors?


I just came up with the concept “non future optimal”. I googled it and some variants with zero results so it seems like a fresh idea. Let’s dig into it what it could mean.

A starting point is Bryan Johnson’s decision to live his life entirely in accord with a longevity optimizing algorithm he calls Blueprint. Every aspect of his life down to what food he eats when and precisely what times he goes to sleep are governed by the algorithm.

The usual immediate response is to ask whether this is a life worth living. Surely the pleasures of life are what make it so wonderful to be alive?

It turns out that many of the deepest pleasures in life, such as watching sunsets, skiing, having sex, eating delicious healthy food, getting massages, and far, far more are completely and utterly aligned with our future as well as present health and happiness.

I think those are all within the bounds of what Johnson is permitted or even encouraged to do by his life algorithm.

Even those who don’t choose to live by an algorithm can and often do live incredibly full and varied and pleasurable lives without negatively impacting their future health or potential one iota.

The question arises of what behaviors might give pleasure (or avoidance of discomfort) in the moment, but negatively impact our future selves: the potential of who we could be in the future.

These are “non future optimal” behaviors.

This most obviously includes eating unhealthy food (which to some degree is most food available), more than extremely moderate (or arguably any) drinking or drug use, and lack of sufficient diverse exercise.

Some years ago I wrote a blog post Zen and the Art of Creating the Future, which discussed how we can resolve the paradox:

“Zen teaches us that the only thing that exists is the present. Yet if there is only the present, how and why should we work in the present to create the outcomes we desire in the future?

I concluded:

“There is no conflict between living fully in the present and working towards the future.”

Which brings us back to, where is there indeed a conflict or choice between living fully and absolutely in the present, and creating the best future possible for ourselves?

Almost everyone alive will sometimes choose to have an extra glass of wine, add another twist of salt, or take a non-scheduled day off exercise, and feel that the indulgence was well worth the negative future impact.

It is a deep human need to feel that we can be spontaneous, that we have free will, that we can choose to do things that we feel like doing, but just might regret tomorrow, or cumulatively in years to come.

The question is the degree of non-future-optimal behaviors you take. What you say you choose is irrelevant, you can only observe your own behavior.

Johnson has set the bar. He is at the extreme end of spectrum in only engaging in future-optimal behaviors.

There are of course unfortunately unlimited examples of the other end of the spectrum.

The question is: relative to the rest of humanity – perhaps expressed as a percentile – to what degree do you engage in non-future-optimal behaviors?


Image: Midjourney