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Say hello to your future self


This week, I'd like to introduce you to your future self. Our future selves have a lot to answer for. Quite often, we don't care enough about our future selves to look after them properly. So, actually making a change, creating a career you love for example, is harder because it only benefits the future self and not our current self.

Quite often I find that people absolve themselves of responsibility for their future selves or believe that "the universe" will make things happen if they're meant to be. Hmmm.

How connected do you feel to your future self? According to psychological theory (influenced by philosopher Derek Parfit), the closeness of this connection can influence how motivated you are to make changes that will benefit your future self. Research suggests that the more closely connected you feel to your future self, the more likely you are to make patient and long-term decisions.

This explains a lot, doesn't it?


The issue is that, in our brains, we all think about our future selves as a person who is as separate from our current selves as you are separate to me. So, when we over-eat or under-save or damage the environment, we are actually harming someone who is disconnected from us.

Added to this, we all feel a different level of connection to our future selves. Some of us think of our future selves as a stranger and some of us think of our future selves as a loved one - and, of course, there is every degree of connection in between. This level of connection will make us behave quite differently - would you make the same sacrifices for a complete stranger as you would for your child / parent / partner?

If you have a high level of connection with your future self then you are more likely to save for retirement, look after your health and delay gratification. With a low level of connection, you are more likely to live in the moment and worry about your long-term planning at a later date.

On a scale of 1 - 10, how connected do you feel to your future self? Could it do with a nudge up the scale?

Making a connection

If you want to make positive changes to benefit your future self, then you have to feel more connection with them. Psychologist and social marketing expert Hal Hershfield and colleagues ran some studies to further our knowledge about this. They saw evidence that people are more generous with their charitable donations when they really get to see the people that will benefit. So, the more vivid the imagery of the recipients of charitable giving, the more generous we are.

Hershfield et al experimented with virtual reality to give people the same kind of experience with their future selves. Participants were allowed to explore a virtual room where there was a mirror. Some participants could see an avatar of their current selves in the mirror and some could see an avatar of their "virtually aged" self. Participants who had seen their "virtually aged" avatar, put twice as much into a hypothetical savings account as those that had seen their current self avatar.

You can watch Hershfield's TEDx talk on YouTube here.

What you can do

Evidence suggests that there are a few ways that we can get closer to our future selves. If you'd like to increase your own connection with your future self, perhaps you'd like to try one of these:

  • Write a letter to your future self setting out your hopes, dreams, goals and intentions for them. You can actually get this letter delivered to your future self using free apps such as FutureMe;
  • Get an "age-progressed" image of yourself and put it somewhere in your home, particularly if there's a place where you typically make big decisions.
  • Journal about your future self. Ask yourself "What one thing could I do today from which my future self would benefit?"
  • Talk about your intentions for your future self. Tell other people what you plan to do or who you plan to be in the future. Through accountability comes action.
  • Visualise your life in the future with all of your goals satisfied. How will it be? What will you look like? How will you feel?

I'll leave you with a final question:

"What will your life look like in 5/10/20 years when you are fulfilling your best career dreams and aspirations?"

I'm happy to take your answers and play them back to you in the future ...

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