If you could open a magical door and meet your future self, what would you say to him or her? What might he or she say back?
If this thought seems strange or scary, you’re not alone. For many of us, our “future selves” are almost impossible to imagine. The person we will one day become can seem distant and removed from our current reality. In fact, research shows that we generally find it quite hard to identify with who we’ll be in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years.
This might all seem like nothing but dinner-table conversation, but in fact, our relationship to our “future selves” has been found to have a lot do with how we handle money and plan for the future. Multiple researchers have done many interesting experiments that show that people who feel connected to and identified with the person they will be further down the road make different financial decisions than those who do not “recognize” their future selves as themselves.
In real life, what this tends to mean is that future-connected people are better able to make choices that might be hard for them in the here and now in favor of saving money that will help out “future them.” For example, these might be the folks who are choosing to stay home for dinner or to pass up the newest gaming system in favor of savings, or the ones who are sure to put adequate money into retirement funds. Meanwhile, those who can’t “see” themselves in the person they’ll be at 65 are more likely to want to spend in the here and now. (After all, they might subconsciously be thinking, why save money for that guy? He’s practically a stranger!)
In the end, those of us who can connect more strongly to our older selves are likely to come out financially ahead. So how can we help our “current selves” connect with the person we’ll be in 2027 or 2037? Scientists have learned some interesting things about this, too.
How Can We “Find” Our Future Selves?
- Take a look at a picture of your “future self”
With the miracle of technology at our fingertips, academics and now, even companies have figured out how to digitally age a photo to show people what they will look like in 10, 20, or 30 year’s times. It turns out that “seeing” am image of ourselves in the future motivates us to make smarter financial decisions and to be able to hold out for long-term gain over short-term reward.
- Remind people that they’re not likely to change that much over time
It turns out that if we remind people that in 10 years, they’re probably going to still be (for instances) a slightly overweight guy who lives in the suburbs with 2 kids and likes to play fantasy football, they’re more likely to identify with that “familiar-sounding” future self. On the other hand, if people are prompted to think about the fact that the future may change them, they’re more apt to spend in the here and now.
- Have people make goals and plans based on what their “future selves” are going to do
People have an optimistic tendency to assume that their future selves are going to be more disciplined, rational, and generally awesome than our current selves tend to be. In experiments, researchers have been able to inspire people to have more self-control by asking them to think about their “future selves” when making decisions. Another idea is to have people ask themselves what their “future self” is likely to think about financial decisions, whether that’s taking out a home equity loan or deciding to pay off a credit card. This can serve as a valuable gut check as to whether a choice is a good one for the long term “you.”
There may not be a magical door we can open to meet our future selves, but for most people, it’s quite possible to have a good sense of what that person will be like. Most likely, he or she will be working in the same field, have the same general personality, possess the same good and bad habits, and probably have a similar family situation. Saving money and making smart financial choices for this person is a no-brainer, when it comes down to it. The dollar we put away today is just one we’re handing back over to that future self.
Hamm. T. (2017). Three Key Principles of ‘Future Self’ Thinking. Retrieved from http://lifehacker.com/three-key-principles-of-future-self-thinking-1792343365
Hershfield, H. (2013). You Make Better Decisions If You “See” Your Senior Self. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/06/you-make-better-decisions-if-you-see-your-senior-self
Palmer, K. (2012). How to Meet Your Future Self—and Save. Retrieved from http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/alpha-consumer/2012/02/13/how-to-meet-your-future-selfand-save
Walton, A. G. (2015). What your future self can teach you. Retrieved from http://review.chicagobooth.edu/magazine/winter-2015/what-your-future-self-can-teach-you