"The problem with the future is that it keeps turning into the present."
-"Hobbes" in Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
It's been shown over and over again that we are not very good at long term planning, especially when it comes to our money. There's a whole host of reasons that we seem to struggle to do it, but it boils down to us being tempted by instant gratification over long term security. In other words, you give Present You more benefit than Future You. My guess is that Future You is not happy about this.
It seems, then, that we should find out what Future You has to say.
What Does Future You Look Like?
With technology that we have available to us now, we are able to see what we might look like in the future. Studies have shown that just by seeing what we look like in the future we are able to boost how much we save - some say by 200%! This has the effect of humanizing our future selves, making it less of an abstract concept. You get to see the person.
What you do or do not do today will directly affect this person. That can be enough of a fire to get us to change our behaviors!
What Does Future You Want?
Author Bob Veres suggests in his book The New Profession that we sit down regularly and have actual conversations with our future selves. He suggests you should sit down and ask Future You what you should be doing today so that Future You's life will be better. If you do that you'll likely find that Future You won't want you to read the newspapers cover to cover, stare at the TV all day long, or waste your time. It's more likely that Future You will ask you to spend time with your family, be more efficient at work, save more, and quite spending money on stuff you don't value.
What Did Future You Accomplish?
Another cool experiment is to imagine yourself in the future. There are a number of ways you can accomplish this. These exercises help you consider what really matters to you and Future You by engaging your subconscious brain using deep imagination. One way to do this comes from Financial Psychology Institute. This exercise helps you consider what really matters to do and Future You by engaging your subconscious brain using deep imagination. In this experiment you imagine that you are at the end of your life (you are comfortable) and in your last conscious moment before the lights go out you say, "I did it!" Think about that and visualize where you are, who is with you, and what you were able to say "I did it" about.
Another way to do this is to imagine your 80th birthday party. What did people say about you?
In yet another way, George Kinder would ask you to imagine you are informed you will pass away in 24 hours. What do you wish you would have done? What do you wish you could have been?
From there you will be well prepared to have those conversations with Future You, because you know what Future You was able to accomplish. Ask Future You to tell you how it was possible to make those things happen.
Humanize Future You
We have three ways to humanize Future You so that the future is less of an abstract concept. If we have no idea about what the future looks like and what we might need when we get there, it's very easy to let short term thinking get the best of us. It's easy to succumb to instant gratification and ignore the you of the future. By making Future You a real person you put yourself in a much better position to make good financial and life decisions.
I realize this post can be a bit morbid, and I hope that's ok. It was intentional. Thinking in terms of our future selves helps us humanize the very real person we will become. Doing exercises like this helps keep the instant gratification monkey from calling the shots.
P.S. Here are the participants in my Future You conversations:
Business Standard: Three questions that can transform your financial life
Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
Treeincrement: Imagine your 80th Birthday
Bob Veres: The New Profession
Wait But Why: Why Procrastinators Procrastinate