Thinking about your "future self" has positive impact on present self

(This article by Steven Handel originally appeared in Charter for Compassion.)

How often do you think about your future self? It could make all the difference in how happy and successful you are later in life.

You see, one of the biggest factors in making smart decisions is knowing when to pay short-term costs for long-term benefits. It’s about keeping the future in mind.

But for many, especially in our fast-paced world, there is a tendency for “instant gratification.” We want things now, not later – even if that means rejecting a much bigger reward in the future.

If you don’t think about your future self, and only consider your needs and wants in the present moment, then that can often lead to a lot of impulsive decisions that later come back to bite your ass.

True intelligence requires that we act with a long-term mindset. We need to pay attention to how what we do today is going to ultimately influence where we are tomorrow.

Sometimes it is more important to hold off on something now, so that we have even more to gain in the future.

For example, in one study it was found that individuals who could connect more with their future self ended up consuming less and saving more money.

Of course, this makes perfect sense. If you consider your wants and needs in the future, you’re going to act differently today than you would if you completely ignored your future.

And in another study it was found that individuals are more likely to make these future-oriented decisions when they feel more powerful and in control over their lives.

Perhaps, too many people underestimate the influence they have over their future, so they begin to neglect it entirely.

It’s easy to see how our actions influence the present. We do something and we get an immediate reaction. But it’s a lot harder to imagine how these actions influence our future self months, years, and decades down the road.

The successful person is strongly connected to their “future self.” They see where they want to be in 5, 10, 20 years – and how they can start moving in that direction today.

According to a recent study, many people underestimate how much their lives will change in the future. But think of it this way:

Take a moment to look back at your life 5, 10, or 20 years ago. That “past self” probably seems quite different from your “present self.” In the same way, if you look ahead toward your life 5, 10, or 20 years, your “future self” is likely to be just as different. We’re constantly growing and changing.

How to start living more as your future self

Now that you know the importance of your future self, what are some useful ways you can start better connecting with your future self?

Here are a few exercises to try:

  • Exercise #1: Take 5 minutes and ask yourself, “How are my actions today influencing where I will be in the future?” Try to have a long-term mindset and see the bigger picture behind your daily habits. 
  • Exercise #2: Write a letter from your “future self” to your “present self.” What kind of advice might they give to you? What insights could you potentially learn from them? 
  • Exercise #3: Imagine what your life may be like in 5 years. Then 10 years. Then 20 years. What are some possible paths that you might travel down?

The main lesson: thinking about your future self is going to have a positive influence on the actions of your present self.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we should always be thinking about the future. We have to give ourselves permission to enjoy the present too. Our “present self” and “future self” need to be balanced in a healthy way.

Have you been thinking about your future self lately? If not, make sure you try out the exercises above and see how they work for you.