Respect Your Future Self
“Live every day like its your last.”
That’s great, in some situations. However, usually the person “seizing the day” is really just ordering a dessert they shouldn’t have, tossing back another shot, or buying something they can’t afford. In this case, living like there is no tomorrow is really just living like there are no consequences for today’s actions. Your future self is that inner voice asking you to reconsider, because it is wiser than your present-day self and understands the effects that will stem from the decisions of today.
As adults, simple day to day actions show respect for our future selves. We make reservations so we don’t have to wait at a restaurant, we grab a coat in case it gets cold, and we use the bathroom before we leave the house. These things are done to make ourselves more comfortable later on. Trust me, one cold baseball game and I’ll never go to another one without an extra blanket! So why do I buy the bag of M&Ms at the grocery store knowing full well they derail my efforts to limit processed foods?
Thinking of our future selves seems to be easily forgotten with things like nutrition, exercise, money, sleep, ect. After doing some reading, here are three main issues I found:
1. Remembering vs. imagining
3. Sense of power
Remembering vs Imagining
Dan Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and author of Stumbling on Happiness, gave a talk on this very concept. He stated that our difficulty likely has to do with the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining. Most of us can remember who we were 10 years ago, but we find it hard to imagine who we’re going to be 10 years from now. We mistakenly think that because it’s hard to imagine, it’s not likely to happen. It is easy to remember what we looked like when we were in peak shape, but can be hard to imagine ourselves back in that same condition.
By making the decision automatic, we are taking away the option of disrespecting the future self. A great example of this is a 401k. You pre-commit to a certain amount of retirement savings in order to diminish the chance that you will spend that money on something else. Your future self benefits. But how do we establish this form of impulse control in places such as the grocery store or keeping the appointment we scheduled with our trainer?
Sense of Power
According to Psychlopedia, the key to respecting our future self is instilling a sense of power. When people feel they are not constrained by the whims of others, they tend to feel more connected to their future identity, and the magnitude of temporal discounting is decreased. Temporal discounting is defined as perceiving the value of a reward to diminish over time, or the inability to delay gratification.
In 2013, Joshi and Fast conducted a series of studies that justify these conclusions. In the first study, participants completed a sequence of tasks. Some were assigned the role of manager, thus instilling a sense of power. After they were assigned this role, but before they began the tasks, all participants completed a measure of temporal discounting. If participants were assigned a position of power, temporal discounting diminished – for example, they were inclined to prefer $1200 in one year rather than $1000 now.
After reading the literature, it seems to me that respecting our future selves comes down to this – imagine endless possibilities, pre-commit when you can, and develop a sense of personal power. Whatever the situation may be, we all have the ability to respect our future selves.