Take a minute to think about your birthday this coming year. Who will be there with you? What will you be doing? What will you be eating, and maybe more importantly, what will you be drinking?
Now, think ahead and do the same for your birthday in 20 years’ time. What does the scene look like? Who is there? What are you eating? What are you drinking?
Emily Pronin, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, posed the first question to one group of people and the second question to a different group of people. The study found that there was a shift in perspective between the two groups. The first group described this year’s birthday using the first-person perspective (e.g. “I will be hanging out with my three best friends at a bar.”). The second group however, described the distant future birthday using the third-person perspective. They were more likely to depict their future selves as other people in the scene (e.g., “I see an older guy with some friends around him.”).
Empathizing with Your Future Self
So, what’s the meaning of this? When we are thinking about our futures, when we are doing this while goal setting, we are looking at ourselves as a different person. Often our shortcomings may come from imagining ourselves as someone else. Why would we keep less now just to give that money to a stranger I don’t even know? Realizing that we may be seeing our future selves as someone else may help us understand why we are not accomplishing our financial goals.
What if we can shift our goal setting to take advantage of that perspective? The common messaging in the financial industry is that we should make decisions that are in our own best “self-interest”. Instead we can shift our message to acknowledge that our retirement-aged selves, that are seen as different people, may be worth caring for. We often encourage people to take care of others, so why shouldn’t we use some of the same tools for our future selves?
Helping Your Long-Term Financial Decision-Making
When setting your goals and beginning to make decisions to accomplish them, think about your future self. First, determine why money is important to you, then try to appeal to the sense of responsibility that you may feel toward our older selves. We can use this mindset to motivate long-term decision-making and accomplish our goals both for our self-interest and for those strangers we call our future selves. So, if a shift in your mindset is needed to help figure out why money is important to you, here are some questions to help you do this:
What brings you joy? List 10 to 15 items, no matter how silly and frivolous.
You have plenty of money. How will you live the rest of your life?
You have just 24 hours to live. What regrets do you have?
Your fairy godmother comes to you and says you can have whatever your deepest wishes are. Write down every fantasy you have had over the years. Why do you want this?
The doctor tells you that you have just 10 years left to live. You will not be in pain, but you will die suddenly. What changes will you make?
Take a minute to think about your birthday in 5, 10, or 20 years. Who will be there with you? What will you be doing? What will you be eating, and maybe more importantly, what will you be drinking?
These questions may seem silly to some, but when you begin to understand why many of these things are important to you, you might begin to clearly see the best possible version of your future self; then you can set goals that you are willing to accomplish. Take note of your feelings, your wishes, and your perspectives. Write down your goals, financial and otherwise, and get started today. You do not need to wait until January to begin accomplishing your goals.
December is the new January so get started now.
As always, we appreciate our relationship with you, and we are here to help.
Cheers to 2020!