The Surprising Benefits of Planning Future You
This year I started to really think about and visualize my future me. And because I’m 56 (57 in August), my future will more than likely bring some pretty significant lifestyle changes. But I’m only going to bite off a little bit of future me planning at a time…like visualize me in 10 years and what the path to that future date looks like.
I wasn’t sure when I was going to record this podcast, but I was spurred on by an article I read recently on the BBC website entitled, “How Thinking About ‘future you’ can build a happier life.” And then yesterday I took my mom to her local senior center to get some advice on Medicare, elder care planning, and the like and I decided this week would be as good as any to Ger Her Done.
Helping my 86-year-old mom put a plan in place for her future, definitely spurred me on to come home and do some visualizing, planning, and recording this podcast.
I circled back to David Robson’s BBC article and I’m looking forward to sharing some of his insights from the article with you, along with some tips for visually mapping out your future. And with this episode of my podcast, I decided to start assigning some homework with each episode to help my listeners not just listen and then go on about their lives, but to listen and then take action. Because that’s the only way to make a change to your present and future. So at the end of the podcast, I’ll explain your assignment to help you Get Her Done.
Mr. Robson’s article encourages people to imagine and nurture their future selves, including their health, wealth, and happiness. I love the concept of that because health, wealth, and happiness are the focus not only on this podcast but also on my Her Retirement Platform. He asks readers to think ahead to 10 years from now and consider if you’ll still fundamentally be the same person you are today, or will you hardly recognize yourself?
Many researchers and psychological studies show that people’s responses to this question vary quite a bit. But their answer does point to some surprising behavioral tendencies.
Those who have a strong sense of who they are and will become in the future tend to be better and more responsible with their money, how they treat others, and being mindful of actions that will make the future easier. By contrast, some people have difficulty imagining their future selves as just an extension of their current selves. They appear to be somewhat disconnected from their present-day identity so they tend to act less responsibly in their actions.
The article goes on to say that nurturing your future self is just another thing we should all be mindful of. Getting to know our future selves and encouraging acceptance of who we will become has a significant impact (and benefits) on our financial security, health, and happiness.
Sounds good to me. How about you?
But guess what? This recent research is based on writings from 18th-century philosophers, Joseph Butler and Derek Parfit. In 1736, Butler offers this insight to us, “If the self or person of today, and that of tomorrow, are not the same, but only like persons, the person of today is really no more interested in what will befall the person of tomorrow, than in what will befall any other person.”
This theory was later expanded by Derek Parfit and used as a basis by a professor of behavioral decision making, marketing, and psychology, Hal Hershfield at the University of California, Los Angeles. Mr. Hershfield hypothesized that a “disconnection from our future selves might explain many irrational elements of human behavior – including our reluctance to set aside savings for our retirement. Hmmm…very interesting.”
We may blame a lot of things for our inability to save for retirement (and of course some are legit), but how often do we consider how our own behavior plays into our outcomes?
The article goes into more detail on Hershfield’s research and how he conducted it through conversations with research participants about his future self. He also asked participants to consider various financial planning scenarios such as one in which a person could either receive a smaller reward soon or a larger reward later. As one might expect, those who felt more connected to their future self were much more willing to delay instant gratification and wait for the bigger reward.
As I’m talking about this, I’m wondering how much of this behavior comes down to the people who believe in the motto “live for today.” Or, “you can’t take it with you.” Do those people tend to just focus on the current me?
Hershfield then went on to find out how this tendency correlated with the actual financial planning of these participants. Guess what? He discovered that those more in touch with future self had more money saved (and off-limits to current self).
Next, as the article says, “Back to the future” (loved that movie by the way… “Wait A Minute, Doc. Are You Telling Me You Built A Time Machine…Out Of A DeLorean?”
Sorry for my digression. Back to the future. Later research by Hershfield examined other areas of life, and here’s what he found out…
1). People’s future self-continuity could predict their exercise behaviors and overall fitness. With a strong connection to your future self, you’re more likely to take care of your health and fitness now and into the future.
2). People who score highly on the future self-continuity measure have higher moral standards than the people who struggle to identify with their future selves. These people understand the consequences of present-day decisions and their impact on the future self.
People who set up their lives in a way that benefits the future self (in addition to the current self) enjoy more health, wealth, and happiness. Inability to identify with your future self can have long-term consequences for your overall wellbeing. We all struggle sometimes to imagine ourselves older, but if we could, it would definitely be to our advantage. I have noticed that in my 30s and 40s, I wasn’t bothered so much thinking 10 years into the future. But now in my mid-50s, a little panic and worry sets in, but it doesn’t stop me from keeping a clear picture in my head of the future, and it’s a good picture.
This extremely interesting article and research wrap up with a section called, The things I wish I’d Know. This reminds me of a piece from Erma Bombeck’s book, “Eat Less Cottage Cheese and More Ice Cream: Thoughts on Life from Erma Bombeck, called If I Had to Live My Life Over Again.
So what are some things I wish I’d known?
Based on all the benefits of connecting with and planning a future you (including health, wealth, and happiness), we of course want to know how we can do this. And this is where your homework for this episode comes in.
According to Hershfield’s research, one of the ways you can improve your connection to the future you is to create an avatar of what you might look like at say age 70. People who did this reported feeling a greater connection to their future self, and in subsequent measures of decision making, they showed more financial responsibility, like setting aside more money for retirement. Does this surprise you? According to the author of this article, David Robson, these exercises “encourage people to feel a greater sense of connection with their future self – and, as a result, primes them for positive behavioral change.”
Next, a less techy way to do this is to write a letter to future you, say 10-20 years from now. Include what’s important for you now and what you hope to accomplish in the coming decades of life. I have done something similar with vision boards and a journal where I write down my intentions for the future. In my Her Retirement retirement readiness software platform, I have a module called Envision where you go through a number of exercises either on your own or with your spouse/partner. It’s a similar concept but because I love to write letters, I’m going to write one to myself. I have written one to my kids (only to be read after I pass someday). But I’m going to write this letter next.
Hershfield’s studies have shown that the task increased the amount of time that people spent exercising over the following week (crazy right)… a sign that they had started to take their long-term health seriously. (If you are keen to try this out, he suggests that you could amplify the effects by writing a reply from the future since that will force you to adopt a long-term perspective.)
If you’re wondering how Hershfield has applied his research to his own life, the author shares with us that he tries to put himself in the shoes of his future self to imagine how he might look back on his current behavior. He uses this technique when faced with stressful situations like raising his children. He states,“I try to think whether my future self would be proud of the way that I handled myself.”
Mr. Robson adds, “It might seem eccentric to start a ‘conversation’ with an imagined entity – but once your future self becomes alive in your mind, you may find it much easier to make the small personal sacrifices that are essential to preserve your wellbeing. And in the years ahead, you’ll thank yourself for that forethought.”
Well, you actually don’t have to thank yourselves in the years ahead, you can thank yourself in the letter you write to yourself…now that’s the power of positive suggestion.
David Robson is a science writer and author based in London, UK. His latest book, The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life, was published in January of this year. If want to check this out. I think I’m going to. I also want to mention another book I heard about in another podcast on this topic called, “Be Your Future Self Now: The Science of Intentional Transformation by Benjamin Hardy.”
It’s coming out in June and the description on Amazon says, “This isn’t a book about BECOMING it’s about BEING: noted psychologist Dr. Benjamin Hardy shows how to imagine the person you want to be, then BE that person now. When you do this, your imagined FUTURE directs your behavior, rather than your past.
Who is your Future-Self?
That question may seem trite. But it’s literally the answer to all of your life’s questions. It’s the answer to what you’re going to do today. It’s the answer to how motivated you are, and how you feel about yourself. It’s the answer to whether you’ll distract yourself on social media for hours, whether you’ll eat junk food, and what time you get up in the morning.
Your imagined Future-Self is the driver of your current reality. It is up to you to develop the ability to imagine better and more expansive visions of your Future-Self.
Your current view of your Future-Self is very limited. If you seek learning, growth, and new experiences, you’ll be able to imagine a different and better Future-Self than you currently can.
It’s not only useful to see your Future-Self as a different person from who you are today, but it is also completely accurate. Your Future-Self will not be the same person you are today. They will see the world differently. They’ll have had experiences, challenges, and growth you currently don’t have. They’ll have different goals and priorities. They’ll have different habits. They’ll also be in a different world—a world with different cultural values, different technologies, and different challenges.
As I close out this episode of my podcast I want to remind you about a few things. There are many benefits to connecting with and planning the future you, including more health, wealth, and happiness…today and in the future. As you’re doing this remember:
When you’re evaluating or dreaming about the future you, go into every aspect of your life and think about how you’d like to feel and what you envision.
Here is a list of some of the areas of life you should think about:
And finally, I’d like to share with you what Erma Bombeck said to the question, “If I had to live my life over again would I change anything?”
Her answer was no, but then she thought about it and changed her mind. Here’s what she said,
If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.
I would have eaten the popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.
I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.
I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.
I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.
I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.
I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.
When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorry’s … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”
Well, that wraps up this week’s episode. I hope you found it as interesting as I did. Don’t forget to do your homework assignment: create an avatar and write a letter to your future self.
Here’s to knowing more & having more and getting her done.