Build your compass with the Bento Method

The Weekly Bento // August 27, 2021

Hi there and welcome to the Weekly Bento. I’m Yancey Strickler.

In this issue:

  • ESSAY: Building your life compass with the Bento

  • RECAP: How we spent Bento Day

  • EVENTS: Bento Founders Club and the Weekly Bento

Building your life compass with the Bento Method 

Earlier this year, I received an unusual invitation: to write an essay that would teach the Bento to prisoners. The essay, the invitation explained, would be published in a book funded by the Arts Council England, and would be distributed to prisoners in the UK. Honored by this unique invitation, I put together the following introduction to the Bento. — Yancey

Self-awareness is a word that gets thrown around a lot. It’s also an important idea that’s worth taking a moment to think about what it really means. 

Self-awareness means understanding yourself. It means knowing what you like and don’t like. What you’re good at and not good at. What makes you feel alive and what turns you off.

Knowing these things are parts of your self-awareness. They’re only parts because the insides of each of us are like the universe: there’s so much we don’t know, and the more time we spend there, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more our self-awareness leads to self-control. Having self-control means actually being the people we want to be.

This is easier said than done. Which is why a tool called The Bento Method is so useful. The Bento Method is four simple boxes that help us see what’s really in our self-interest. 

The way the world sees self-interest is simple: it’s about going and getting yours. The more you get of whatever you want (money, power, fame), the happier you will be. In the business world this idea of self-interest is often pictured as a hockey stick graph. Whatever it is you want, it’s going up.

But when you take a step back, this image looks a lot different. 

The timeline on the bottom keeps going far into the future. It’s not just now that matters, it’s the future too.

The line on the side for our self-interest keeps going too. As our self-interest grows, so do our responsibilities. 

When the lines are longer, a very different picture appears. 

We can carve this picture into four spaces and give each one a name.

Now Me. What I as a person want and need right now. This is how we think about self-interest today.

Future Me. What the older, wiser version of me wants. That person becomes real or not real based on what I do in the moment.

Now Us. My friends and family and the communities I’m a part of. My decisions impact them just as theirs impact me. 

Future Us. The community we belong to even though we haven’t met many of the people in it yet. Your kids, other people’s kids, the older versions of ourselves.

Every action we take leaves its footprints in each of these spaces. All of these spaces affect us. They are all things to be aware of. They are all in your true self-interest. 

This tool is called a Bento, like the bento box. The bento box is a Japanese lunch box with four sections of food that’s always an easy, balanced meal. The bento box honors a Japanese eating philosophy called hara hachi bu, which says the goal of a meal is to be 80% full. That way you’re still hungry for tomorrow. 

The Bento is a bento box for your values and decisions. A balanced way to stay hungry for tomorrow. A way to see your true self-interest.

This isn’t just an idea in some book. It’s a tool you can use.

Imagine a smoker is trying to decide whether to try quitting smoking. Everyone’s telling them they should and they know it’s the right thing to do. Still, they can’t bring themselves to do it.

To understand why, let’s imagine the smoker uses the Bento. To do this, the smoker would draw a Bento, then write the question at the top. Then they would ask the question to each box of the Bento to see what it had to say.

Their Now Us — which is thinking of their family and close friends — says to quit. They hate that you smoke and want you to stop.

The smoker’s Future Us, which thinks of the future their kid will live in, also wants them to quit. What if your kid smokes because of you?

The smoker’s Future Me wants there to be a future me. It says quit today!

But the smoker’s Now Me? It says to keep smoking. It’s addicted to nicotine. Quitting is going to suck. “Don’t put me through this,” it says.

Now Me has a point! It will suck for them, even if it’s good for the rest of you. It’s in situations like these where we get stuck. 

The Bento helps us understand these battles we all struggle with. It gives us the power to make choices that truly reflect who we are and what’s important to us.

Build your Bento

Now that we have the idea down, let’s make a Bento about what you most care about. We’ll start by drawing a blank Bento, like this:

Inside each box we’re going to write down the things that matter most to us. There are no right or wrong answers. It’s just what you feel and think.

We’ll start with Now Me. This is the most “selfish” part of you. The part of you that wants to be safe and that seeks pleasure. 

What does your Now Me want and need on a daily basis? What do you need to feel like yourself?

Write down your answers inside the Now Me box.

Things other people have written: “My health. Money in the bank. Happiness. Doing something that gives me purpose. Exercising. Connection to my people.”

Next is Now Us. Now Us are the people we rely on and who rely on us. Our families, our neighbors, our coworkers, people of the same faith, country, and so on.

Imagine your friends, family, and community. What do you give to them? What do they give to you? 

What does Now Us need? Write down the names of the key people and what’s at the heart of your relationship in your Bento.

Things other people have written: “A friend, who’s a role model. A parent, who loves me unconditionally. A friend who I always have fun with. A tight group of close friends.”

Next is Future Me. Future Me is the older, wiser version of you that made all the right decisions. The obituary you wish you could have. 

Picture the older version of you. The person that made it through good times and bad. What do they say must always be true of you? What do they say matters most? 

What does Future Me want and need? Write down your answers in the box.

Things other people have written: “Be loyal to my people. Don’t sell out who I am. Always be hungry to learn. Be able to self-correct. See the bigger picture. Never back down.”

Last is Future Us. Future Us is the next generation. Our children and everybody else’s children too.

What’s important for the coming world? What did previous generations leave for you and what should you leave for the next?

What does the next generation need?

Things other people have written: “Safe environment, Just, Constructive, Togetherness, Tradition, Peace on Earth.”

You now have the first draft of your Bento. 

Last, look at what you’ve written in each box. Try summing up what you wrote in each box into something you will remember. Four words or less is good. Give yourself five minutes right now to see what you come up with. Once you have them, write down these phrases on your second blank Bento. 

Here’s my second Bento as an example:

Congratulations! You have made your Bento. Your compass for making decisions that truly live up to what you most deeply want. These four boxes will bring you a new kind of self-awareness and a new superpower to make choices that can make you who you want to be.

I speak from experience. Since coming up with this idea several years ago, I’ve made every decision with these boxes and phrases in mind. The same way the smoker asked each box what it thought, this is what I’ve done with my forks in the road. And each time, these four basic boxes have shown me the way. 

Self-awareness isn’t just a concept. It’s a place you can travel to. A place where you can live. Translated into the Bento, self-awareness is a map for finding yourself, and making sure you never get lost again.

Peace and love.

How we spent Bento Day

August 18, was the first Bento Day. How did our members celebrate the day? Here’s a sampling of some of the things people did:

Now Me:

  • Experiencing a slow morning with a cup of coffee

  • Morning walk listening to music

  • Gratitude journaling

  • Completed a workout

Now Us:

  • Wrote a letter to a loved one

  • Made food for others

  • Chats with others about the Bento

  • Preparing kids for first day of school

Future Me:

  • Made a bento for the time capsule

  • Making plans for future personal projects

  • Pre-ordered an item for my future self

Future Us:

  • Donated to a charity

  • Donated a book to the neighborhood library

  • Planned a time to volunteer

  • Picked up garbage

Thanks to everyone who participated. Remember that you can make any day a Bento Day, if you wish.

Events: Bento Founders Club & The Weekly Bento

A new Bento Society experiment, called the Bento Founders Club, will begin in September. Co-hosted by Cecilia Wessinger and Daniel Salcedo, this will be a space for founders in the Bento Society to connect with each other to share challenges, support each other, or just to make friends. If you haven’t expressed interested yet and would like to join, RSVP here.

RSVP for the Bento Founders Club

More clubs like this one will launch in the Bento universe this fall. If you have a specific interest group or geographic group that you’d like to lead or advocate for, reply to this email with your thoughts.

Finally, this Sunday I will host the Weekly Bento — a 15 minute experience during which we’ll set our priorities and ground ourselves for the week ahead. Please join me, and hang out with your fellow Bentoists in the Bento Cafe afterwards.

The Weekly Bento
Sunday, August 29
12pm EST *sharp*
Doors open at 11:55am

Join the Weekly Bento This Sunday

Peace and love,


The Bento Society explores the frontiers of what’s valuable and in our self-interest. We host weekly events and support projects aligned with our mission.

Join the Bento Society