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Be Good to Your Future Self

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Photo credit  Kristy Sparow/Getty Images for L’Oreal.

Photo credit Kristy Sparow/Getty Images for L’Oreal.

“The present is a magic time. It’s a watershed on the timeline. It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves. Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.” — Daniel Gilbert, TED Talk: The Psychology of Your Future Self

Ah, future you. Perfect family, happy, rich, and successful. If only it were that easy. If humans were any good at doing things in the short term to benefit themselves in the long term, no one would smoke, everyone would have a 401k, and the majority of lifestyle diseases would not exist. Harsh but true statements.

So why is it that we’re just not that good about being kind to our future selves? Why do we act against our self-interests? Tim Herrera notes that “at work is present bias, our natural tendency to place our short-term needs and desires ahead of our long-term needs and desires. A lot of the time this comes in the form of procrastination, and there have also been many studies that suggest it’s a primary reason we’re bad at saving for retirement.” In fact, research has found that people would rather take $100 today than $110 the next day. What? Why?

As humans, we are often ruled by our cognitive biases. So, with present bias, the counteractive behavior that we’re cognitively programmed to engage in is because we perceive our future selves the same way we perceive total strangers. Yes, the truth is that you are not good at seeing your future self because that ‘person’ is a stranger to you. So much for “know thyself”.

a single simple step to a better future you

Visualize your future self. Whether that’s being able to ‘see’ yourself ten years from now or envisioning your dream house, get a visual going. For example, are you struggling with managing your weight because of that desk job and saying no to lunch from that McDonalds on the corner by your office? Download FaceApp and filter your older self. If you like what you see, great. If you don’t put a plan together to change your future self. Or, if you’re struggling to save money for a downpayment or that vacation you’ve always wanted, create a vision board or collage of that dream home or place. Use it as your phone wallpaper, or put it up on your bathroom mirror. Visual reminders of what you’re trying to attain will help keep you motivated. In an interesting experiment, Herrera notes, “three groups of subjects were shown one of three things: an avatar of themselves exercising; an avatar of a different person exercising; or an avatar of themselves loitering. You can guess which group reported the highest levels of real-world exercise 24 hours later.”

future you resources

If you’re serious about getting your future self together, spend some time with these resources. Whatever you do, keep at it; change will not happen overnight, and it will take time and effort to continue working toward the best future you possible.

Watch: Dan Gilbert, The Psychology of Your Future Self

Read: From the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics, Richard H. Thaler, and Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge, Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness

Listen: Future Self, NPR, podcast

If you find other resources on your future self journey, be sure to email us at team@helloworkwell.com.