Are We the “Same” over Time?
- Do we change over time? Some aspects of our personality change, while others remain the same. • It’s difficult to make long-term decisions (such as whom to marry) if our future selves are different from our present selves. • If people retain their moral traits over time, we’re likely to see their present and future selves as similar.
Is Future Me Really… Me?
- We can’t truly know our future selves because when we become them, our thoughts and feelings may change in ways we can’t anticipate. But we can still care about and plan for those selves. • Multiple versions of us spread out over time. We can think of those selves as being linked together like a series of interlocking chains. But over time, the links in the chain may be weakened so that faraway versions of us may seem like strangers. • We treat strangers differently than we treat ourselves, often failing to consider their interests. If our future selves seem like strangers, it’s no wonder we so often do things today that we then regret tomorrow. • In a variety of ways, we see our distant selves as if they are other people. What matters is the relationships we have with those other people.
Relationships with Our Future Selves
- The relationships we have with our future selves play a crucial role in the decisions we make. • Stronger connections to our distant selves are linked to positive outcomes. • These improved outcomes can be found in a variety of areas, like enhanced financial well-being, a greater likelihood to exercise, better grades, and better psychological well-being. • Strengthening your connection to your future self can boost your willingness to take more actions on your future self’s behalf.
Missing Your Flight
- Our first time-traveling mistake is that we get overly focused on the present, failing to consider the future. There are at least three reasons for this tendency. • First, the present is simply more certain than the future, and we’d rather take a sure bet now than a risky one later. • Second, our present-day emotions seem more powerful than the ones we expect our future selves to feel. • Third, time feels as if it lasts longer in the present, making it more difficult to exhibit patience. • We may fail to see the ways in which our present selves add up to and become our future selves.
Poor Trip Planning
- The second time-traveling mistake is that we think ahead to the future, but only in a surface-level way. • Procrastination is a classic example of this mistake: in not considering the future in a particularly deep way, we fail to recognize just how much our future selves will want to avoid the same negative situations we’re escaping today. • The Yes/Damn effect presents another example: we may say yes to a future commitment but not anticipate just how much our future selves will regret it.
Packing the Wrong Clothes
- Projection bias is one example of this mistake: we take our present-day emotions and over-project them onto our future selves. • The end-of-history illusion is another example: we think that our current personalities and preferences won’t change that much in the years ahead. • As a result of both projection bias and the end-of-history illusion, we may make decisions we’ll later regret, from what we eat to the careers we pursue.
Making the Future Closer
- To bridge the gap between present and future selves, you can “make the future closer.” • You can do this by visualizing the future self with age-progressed images or by writing letters to and from your future self. • But context matters. Simply seeing your aged self or writing letters to or from them may not be enough to change behavior. Instead, pair these “vividness” exercises with situations where you can make an immediate choice (like an online investment platform). • Other methods might work as well: travel backward from the future to the present or think about the time that lies ahead in terms of days rather than years.
Staying the Course
- To better ensure that you arrive at the future you want, consider “commitment device” strategies that make it harder to fall prey to temptation. • The weakest form is known as a “psychological commitment”: make a plan to commit to a course of action. Try to recruit an accountability partner—someone who can make sure that you do the thing you said you were going to do. • Stronger yet are commitment devices where tempting options are removed from your environment (for example, check out the KSafe). • More extreme still are commitment devices where punishments are enacted if you veer off track. If possible, make the punishments automatic so that you leave no room for negotiations with yourself.
Making the Present Easier
- Tension exists when Current You has to sacrifice for the benefit of Future You. But you can improve future outcomes by making those present-day sacrifices easier to undertake. • One category of strategies is to “take the good with the bad”: Experiencing positive emotions in the face of negative events may provide a buffer of sorts, allowing better insight into stressors big and small. “Temptation bundling,” where you pair tempting positive activities with the things that feel like sacrifices, can be effective. And “tangential immersion,” where you pair the boring task with something that’s slightly more interesting, can help you stay on track. • You can also “make the big small” and break sacrifices down into smaller, easier-to-accomplish pieces. • We must also find ways to celebrate the present. Recognize that if we live only for tomorrow, we may arrive at a future that’s devoid of the memories and experiences that make life worth living.