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The Benefits of Befriending Your Future Self

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When was the last time you checked in with your future self? I mean really sat down and envisioned who you would be decades from now and what your life would look like? Just because you don't have a DeLorean time machine at your disposal like Marty McFly in Back To The Future, it doesn't mean you can't vividly connect with your future self.

In fact, you can mentally connect with who you'll become from the comfort of your own living room in ways that can yield amazing results. Most of us are disconnected, both emotionally and intellectually, from who we will be in the future, and as a result we tend to privilege choices that provide instant gratification over those that would provide significant (and sometimes life saving) benefits in the future. However, Hal Hershfield, assistant professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business, has found that when people can realistically imagine their future selves in a clear and positive light they are increasingly able to make choices that will benefit that future self.

Hershfield examined people's ability to appropriately save for retirement and his research demonstrated that when given opportunity to interact with virtual images of their future selves people were more likely to allocate funds to savings account. Additional research in this realm has found that connection to the future self also decreases engagement in delinquent or unethical behavior. So channeling that future self might literally help keep you out of trouble.

Given its benefits, here are two creative ways that you can meet future you:

1) Create an Age-Progressed Image of Yourself

If you are having a hard time imagining your future self, there are websites and apps that can help. Merrill Edge's Face Retirement and the apps Aging Booth and Hour Face are just a few of the many options that allow you to create age progressed images of yourself. So whether it's allocating more of your paycheck to your 401k or choosing to commit to a new workout routine, taking a peek at an image of your future self may assist you in making choices that will better the future you. Rather than keeping an age progressed picture hanging on your bathroom mirror or looking at it daily, Hershfield suggests looking at it only before making important decisions. While this has yet to be empirically tested, Hershfield speculates that if someone were to look at the picture daily, "There's a chance they would grow so accustomed to the image that it would cease to have any impact." I played with several different versions of the aging apps and while I did find their results a bit frightening, they certainly had a tangible effect. I've been religiously using my eye cream and other anti-aging products ever since.

2) Write a Letter to Your Future Self

Writing a letter to your future self is a great way to get in touch with the needs and desires of who you'll be later on in life. Hershfield suggests writing a letter "in which one can accurately envision who the future self will be and what that distant self will want and desire." The most important piece here, he explained, is really taking the time to "fully think through how their future self would respond." Here are some questions that you might pose to your older self: What does your life look like on a daily basis? Where do you live and what is the quality of your life? How do you feel about yourself? What are you most proud of? What are the experiences that you have had that have added the most value to your life? I recently engaged in this exercise myself (click here to read the letter) and found it both eye opening and beneficial. Upon completing the letter I immediately made a contribution to my retirement account. Professor Hershfield, my future self really thanks you!

So go get in touch with your future self. Both the current and future you will thank you. Be creative and have fun with it.

Please share your successes with me on twitter @Tempestalcsw.

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