I ran a Halloween road race on Saturday afternoon with my husband. Because of the pandemic, that meant we ran our 5K at a nearby park by ourselves and uploaded our times to the race website afterward. We missed seeing the usual crowds and costumes, but it was at least nice weather for a run, with plenty of sunshine and colorful leaves on a newly repaved path.

By Sunday morning the weather was not so nice. The first thing I heard when I woke up was howling winds, and the temperature was forecast to drop steadily all day. I got myself a cup of coffee and some toast, and then I sat down on the couch and changed the picture on my digital art display to a country lane with falling leaves on a windy day.

Autumn leaves falling on a country lane.

(Image credit: Elizabeth Wallace)

Because I hadn’t done any other running this year, my legs felt a bit stiff. I have been rowing regularly, but that works the leg muscles differently. While drinking my coffee, I thought about the common New Age advice to visualize future circumstances as a way to bring them into one’s life. Maybe I ought to be visualizing myself as having wonderful future fitness?

At that point, my imaginary older self Kass suddenly popped out of my subconscious mind and into the country lane picture. She was dressed in the black tights and purple shirt that I had worn in the park on Saturday. Unlike most of my encounters with past or future selves, I wasn’t in the picture but was observing it in a split-screen way, with Kass under the trees and me still in my living room.

“Or, you could get up off the couch and walk around the house for a few minutes to loosen up your legs,” Kass suggested, in a tone midway between helpful and snarky. “Besides, what more do you need to visualize when you already have perfectly good future selves—including yours truly. And my fitness is nothing to sneeze at, if I do say so myself.”

A gust of wind sent leaves tumbling along the lane as I imagined it (although in reality, the picture on the art display was not animated). Kass tugged at her shirt and unfurled a superhero cape, which hadn’t been part of my ordinary, non-costume clothing on Saturday. The cape billowed out behind her.

“Well, okay, Kass, I didn’t have you in mind at all. No slight intended,” I said. “You’re many years into my future, and when I thought about fitness I meant something more near-term, like a few months from now.”

“Seriously, you’re in that much of a hurry? What’s wrong with having great fitness when you are older? You know, it’s a good thing I developed more patience since I was you. Sometimes I really need it to deal with a younger self who is so lacking in basic logic.”

With an exaggerated sigh, Kass turned away and started walking along the lane, making sure to tromp heavily through the leaf drifts and make the most noise. A tailwind flattened the cape to her back. When she got around the bend, the wind abated for the moment, and she turned to face me again.

“The trajectory of small changes is the main determinant of where you’re going to end up,” she observed. “That’s not rocket science—well, it is actually, if you happen to be calculating a rocket’s course. But while we’re talking about fitness, you have been getting more exercise regularly all year because of the new rowing machine. Therefore, you have better fitness now than you had last year, and in a few months it will be more improved. No magical visualization is required. If you really need inspiration from a future-self superhero, though, I’m always happy to oblige.”

“Thanks,” I said, with less than robust enthusiasm, while making a mental note never to ask for anything of the sort. I figured Kass knew what I was thinking, anyway—but, of course, that was her problem.

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