An object in motion will remain in motion with the same speed and direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. – Newton’s First Law

A selection of quotes that all seem related to the same idea. First from Eliezer Yudkowski:

Many people imagine some future that won’t be much fun – and it doesn’t even seem to occur to them to try and change it. Or they’re satisfied with futures that seem to me to have a tinge of sadness, of loss, and they don’t even seem to ask if we could do better – because that sadness seems like an ordinary outcome to them.

Now Anna Salamon, describing how not to fix that. The linked article is really worth reading:

One morning, that month, I was lying in bed, half-asleep. And I wanted my laptop. But my laptop was a few feet away, so reaching it sounded hard (because I was half-asleep). After lying there a while wishing, I finally noticed what my brain was up to. And I noticed that what my brain was doing was visualizing my laptop whooshing toward me. Again and again. Fix attention on laptop…visualize the woosh. Nope, laptop isn’t here yet: repeat!

I’m going to call this process “attempted telekinesis”.

Eliezer again, this time from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:

You couldn’t change history. But you could get it right to start with. Do something differently the first time around. […] Twenty years later, that was what he would desperately wish had happened twenty years ago, and twenty years before twenty years later happened to be right now. Altering the distant past was easy, you just had to think of it at the right time.

Changing the future is like kicking an asteroid. The further in advance you kick it, the smaller the kick you need. Wait too long and you have to send in Bruce Willis with a subterranean nuke, if you can manage it at all.

It’s nice to sometimes notice that the current default future, the one that results from the most obvious path, could really be better; and then also notice that default does not necessarily mean inevitable. It will seem inevitable if Attempted Telekinesis is your default method of dealing with it (guilty). But there exists a mental state where you can go “Hrm. There’s something wrong with the place I’m walking to. Maybe continuing to walk there is a bad idea. Maybe I should not do that.” See also: My old job.

Looking down the road is hard. Getting your brain out of wishful thinking mode and into active planning mode – recognizing that that is a thing you can actually do – is harder. Next to those, changing the future is easy. As a place to start, ask: “twenty years from now, what will I wish I had done differently today?”

As is frequently the case, my favorite expression of this comes from a video game. It claims both the capacity to create change, and ownership of responsibility for it. Xenoblade Chronicles, Shulk, shouting out defiance and meaning his words quite literally:

The future is ours to decide!