It’s Hard to Save for a Stranger
In an effort to understand how our brains work scientists have done a lot of research using brain scans. They have discovered that the activity in our brains differs depending on what we are thinking about.
These studies have shown that our brains are very good at distinguishing ourselves from others. The activity in our brains is different when we are thinking about ourselves than when we are thinking about someone else.
In one interesting study conducted by Hal Hershfield and his colleagues, subjects hooked up to a brain scan were asked to think about themselves and a stranger. The subjects’ brain waves was recorded during each of these activities.
The subjects were then asked to think about themselves 10 years in the future. Some people’s brain scans when thinking about their future selves resembled the scans when they were thinking about their present selves. Other people’s brains when thinking of their future selves looked more like their brains when they were thinking about a stranger.
These same subjects were then asked to make some financial decisions involving real money. They could get a certain sum of money now, or a greater sum in the future. Those who saw their future selves as strangers were more likely to take the money and run, while those who felt connected to their future selves were more likely to delay taking the money now for more money in the future. Not surprisingly, it is easier for us to save money for ourselves than for a stranger.
A Picture is Worth a Million Dollars
It was clear from the study that connecting with our future selves can help us make better financial choices, but if we see our future selves as strangers how can we get to know them?
Hershfield and his colleagues used age-progression software as a tool to help people connect with their future selves. Some subjects were shown an image of their current selves while others were shown age-progressed images of themselves at retirement age.
When the subjects were latter asked how much they were willing to save for retirement those who saw the image of themselves at retirement age were willing to save about twice as much as those who saw their current self. In this case a picture was not only worth a thousand words, but perhaps a million future dollars.
Here is a link to a great TED Talk by Hal Hershfield in which he talks about some of his future-self research.
The Best Way to Connect With Your Future Self
Age-progression software is a neat trick to remind us that we all get old but there is a better way to connect with our future selves. The most powerful way to connect with our future selves is by setting concrete, specific goals and making plans on how to reach them.
Saving for retirement can be difficult when it feels like we are saving money for a stranger, but saving for our future self to start a business, travel the world, set up a charitable foundation, go on a church mission, or develop a talent can establish a real and motivating connection between our present and future selves.
Saving shouldn’t be about money; it should be about what kind of person you want to become and what kind of life you want to live in the future. Approaching saving in this manner creates a lasting bond between your current and future selves that will make you a better, happier, more motivated person now and provide the resources you need to accomplish your goals in the future. So go ahead and dream, set some goals, and get to know your future self. Some day you will be glad you did.