Tarnya Davis | Future-self awareness

We always seem to be looking forward. 

Planning what’s next, ticking things off, moving to the next “when that’s done I’ll be …”.   There is use in planning, and having goals, although being too future-focused can rob us of enjoyment in the present moment. 

We know that we do need to be more present more often and smell the roses. Yet at the same time, to have the kind of future we want, we sometimes need to be aware of this future self, in the present moment.  Confusing, I know. 

We need to be both future focused and present focused. We need both of our selves. 

We don’t need any imagination to know our present selves, but it seems we aren’t very good at imagining our future selves.  Dan Gilbert, social psychologist, talks about how poor we are at predicting our likes and dislikes in the future, mostly because we have a memory of the past, but we can only guess at ourselves in the future. Asked how much they will pay for tickets to see their favourite bands from 10 years ago, people estimate the price as low, as compared with how much they think they will pay for their favourite band in 10 years from now.  People overestimate this price based on an overestimate of how much they will stay the same. 

Our trouble imagining us in the future has a big influence on our lives, as many of the choices we make today influence our future selves. Flossing our teeth today doesn’t really make much of a difference to our present self, but probably does for our future self. Our present self tends to think about the present moment, yet resisting temptation (such as bad food or excessive shopping) for the benefit of our future self, is the job of the present self. This then becomes a kind of an uneven battle.   

In his TED talk, Daniel Goldstein, a behavioural economics expert, uses graphics to help our future self have a louder voice, in this case about saving money. A health fund used images of tired and ill future selves meeting a well self to connect us to the choices of our present selves (and to suggest we buy their insurance).

 I wonder how we can use imagination and compassion to better see our future selves, when our present selves are trying to develop the habits we need to give us the best chance? 

Tarnya Davis is a clinical and forensic psychologist and principal of NewPsych Psychologists. Her book, All Things Considered, is sold at theherald.com.au