I am the interpretation I project onto reality.
—June Aspell, Seed Magazine

Several thousand people were asked in a study to predict how much their values would change in the next ten years, and how much their values had changed in the last ten years. At every age, people vastly underestimated how much change they would experience over the next decade. Most of us can remember who we were ten years ago but may find it hard to envision who we are going to be.

In another study, people were asked if it were possible to know precisely the date of their death, how many would want to know? Only 4% wanted to know.

Time is a powerful force that transforms our preferences and reshapes our trajectories. We are always making decisions that profoundly influence our future selves. We know our genes do not necessarily define who we are, or who we become. We come closest to understanding the self—who we are—through the narratives we weave about our lives.

Our brains are wired to the present, alert to pleasure, and to immediate threat. We are pulled to gratification, and engage mental time travel to plan activities, rehearse situations, and prepare for contingencies. Yet we have difficulty visualizing our future selves.

We buy insurance to hedge against future fears, yet we are most likely to buy insurance for what we have experienced, such as theft insurance after having a burglary.

Participants in one study were asked how much they would want to save for the future. They were divided into two groups: Those who saw a picture of themselves at current time, and another group who saw an age-progression picture of themselves at age 70. This small change made a huge difference. Those who visualized their future selves elected to save more than 40% more than those who did not.

Those who can best visualize and most identify with their future selves plan their lives with longer-term payoffs in mind, including healthier nutrition and exercise practices. Envisioning our future selves—of who we will become—can guide our behaviors in the present to create longer-term rewards economically, physically, and spiritually.


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