For some of us, it can be difficult to get ahead financially and stay the course to realising our future financial goals.
Importantly, this struggle can sometimes be due to a disconnect between our present and future self, which can arise from one or a combination of reasons, for example:
- The preference to live in the present. We have a steady flow of income now that enables us to continue to focus on satisfying our lifestyle in the present.
- The inability to see how our present financial decisions compound over time and affect our future. We only see this become more clearly visible with the passage of time.
- The unrealistic view of our future actions. We continue on our usual course in the present, with the expectation of being able to do something differently in the future.
Ultimately, in every decision and choice we make, we need to consider our present and future self—and the connection between them. Namely, we need to practise a balance between enjoying and providing for ourselves in the present, while also making provisions to continue to do so in the future.
Below is an excerpt from a research paper* that summarises many of the above points, and provides insight into the importance of connecting with our future self, from both a financial and non-financial perspective:
“Our future self is the beneficiary or unfortunate inheritor of all our major decisions and daily choices. During these choices, the tendency to act for the benefit of the future self has been shown to be contingent upon the degree of connection between the person's present and future selves, or future self-continuity. These choices tend to accrue over time with future self-continuity positively correlating with better general well-being, better academic performance, and greater personal net worth.”
In addition, the research paper highlighted ways we can better connect with our future self. One is by having us embody age-morphed avatars in virtual reality (VR), while another is via a short writing exercise that sees us imagine and reflect on who our future self will be in 10 or 20 years' time.
For many of us, the writing exercise is probably more realistic in terms of accessibility. In essence, the short writing exercise asks us to look back from the future and provide guidance to our present self—where we are at in the future and what is required in the present to get there (eg steps to take and obstacles to overcome).
Below is a simple example writing exercise^, which you may find of benefit.
Answer the below 10 questions as you imagine yourself 10 years from now.
- How old are you? __________________________________________________________________.
- Where do you live? _________________________________________________________________.
- Who are two people you like to spend time with?
- What kind of work do you do? ________________________________________________________.
- How do you like to spend your time when you aren’t working? _______________________________.
- Where do you like to go on vacation? ___________________________________________________.
- What are three words you could use to describe your life?
- What’s one hard thing you had to do to get to where you are now? ___________________________.
- What’s the best part of your life? ______________________________________________________.
- What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share with your younger self? _________________________.
Once you have completed the above questions, consider putting your answers into the letter below.
A letter from your future self
Dear __________ (your name),
Hello! This is your “Future Self”, __________ (Q1)-year-old __________ (your name).
You, my younger self, are very important in my life even though we’ve never met. I’m writing to tell you about my life.
I live in __________ (Q2). Two people I like to spend time with are __________ (Q3a) and __________ (Q3b).
For work, I am a __________ (Q4). When I’m not working, I like to __________ (Q5). I like to go on vacation in __________ (Q6).
Three words that best describe my life now are __________ (Q7a), __________ (Q7b), and __________ (Q7c).
One hard thing I had to do to get here is __________ (Q8). But it was worth it! The best part of my life today is __________ (Q9).
Before I say goodbye, I want to give you some advice: __________ (Q10).
Future __________ (your name)
Consider your future self as a living, breathing individual dependent on the major decisions and daily choices of your present self. With this in mind, in every decision and choice you make, consider and balance the needs and wants of both your present and future self. By doing so, you can enjoy yourself in the present, while also ensuring you still get ahead financially, and stay the course to realising your future financial goals.
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*Ganschow, B., Cornet, L., Zebel, S., and van Gelder, J. (2021). Looking Back From the Future: Perspective Taking in Virtual Reality Increases Future Self-Continuity. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.
^Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (2021). Meeting your future self.
Written and accurate as at: Feb 15, 2022