Life is full of choices and we often make decisions in the present moment which we later regret. At the time of making the decision, the future consequences can often feel too abstract or uncertain.
When it comes to planning for our retirement, a disconnect between how we view our current self and our ‘retiree’ self can lead to financial problems in later life. Without a strong emotional connection to their future self, people frequently choose to spend on material possessions and experiences that they’ll enjoy in the present, over saving money for retirement.
With the State Pension age rising from 66 to 67 in 2028 and people living longer, it’s essential to put money away consistently to build retirement savings. People know this, yet many don’t put enough money aside for their later years. If you’re someone who thinks life is for living now not later, and your pension savings are woefully under-funded as a result, you might need to work on making friends with your future self.
Do you feel connected to your future self?
Close your eyes and picture your next milestone birthday in the future. Do you see yourself in your mind’s eye from the perspective of an observer? Are you looking at a scene where you see yourself as a character? Or are you immersed ‘in the picture’, viewing the scene through your own eyes?
It’s not uncommon for people to see themselves in the future as a third party, like they would another person. Is it any wonder then that we struggle to really connect with that version of ourselves when they don’t feel like ‘us’?
Social Psychologist Hal Ersner-Hershfield is known for his research in this area. He performed a study to test how connected people felt to the older versions of who they are now, and then analysed those results alongside how much they had saved.
He used Venn diagrams of seven pairs of circles - one labeled “current self” and the other labeled “future self”. Starting with a pair which didn’t overlap at all, each pair overlapped to different degrees until the final pair were almost completely overlapping. Research participants then chose the pair of circles which indicated how connected they felt to their future selves.
Unsurprisingly, people who chose the circles with more overlap tended to have more money saved than those who didn’t feel their two selves were closely linked.
A strong connection with our future self is clearly the key to taking actions now which will be of benefit to us in later life. So how can we strengthen that association with our future selves to ensure we behave in a way which has a positive effect for us in later life? Here are seven strategies that you may want to try for yourself.
1. Transform into the person you are becoming
In another of Hershfield’s studies, two groups of students were shown images of their own faces. One group were shown images that had been digitally altered so they appeared 50 years older. The other group were shown a current photo of themselves. The students were asked, while looking at the image, to specify how much of their salary they wanted to allocate to their retirement savings. The group looking at the image of themselves in 50 years opted to save an average of 30% more than the students looking at their current photo.
If that photo were a screensaver on your laptop or your phone, would it influence your spending and savings habits today? Perhaps that avatar of ‘elderly you’ will remind you that your choices and behaviour now will impact your future self.
2. Think of your future self as a close loved one
If you struggle to think of yourself and the future ‘you’ as the same person, try to imagine yourself as a loved one such as a child, partner or parent. In the same way that you may feel a sense of responsibility and duty towards them, learn to treat your future self in the same way.
3. Visualise the best version of yourself in the future
One of the most creative and fun ways to envision yourself living in the future is using a vision board. A vision board helps you to visually represent the person you want to become, living your best life. It helps clarify what a happy future could look like for you. It can include ideas for where you’ll be living, hobbies you’ll be enjoying, people you’ll be with, travels, cars. Whatever you feel represents a future life being lived with enjoyment and positivity.
You can either collect images and motivational phrases from magazines and books to create a physical vision board, or use an online tool. The more realistic and vivid you can make that vision of your future self, the higher the likelihood that you’ll take actions now to achieve that vision.
The process of curating the images for the vision board can be really powerful in itself. It often brings awareness to ideas or thoughts about the person you’re becoming which may otherwise have been repressed.
Once you have your vision board, then think about any obvious obstacles that could prevent you from reaching that future vision? Once you become aware of them, you can start working to overcome them.
4. ‘Dear Future Me’: write to your future self
Another powerful way to connect with your future self is by writing the best possible version of them a letter. In your letter, focus on all of the things that the future version of yourself has achieved. Think about how and why these achievements have been possible. What happened between now and that point in the future to facilitate their achievement? This helps us create awareness around the actions and decisions needed to make that vision a reality.
5. Turn this into a dialogue and reply back from your future self
Two perspectives are always better than one. You can take this exercise further by stepping into your future self and sharing your knowledge and learnings with the ‘you’ of the present day.
What lessons could they share about the choices they’ve made and the resulting outcomes? Do they have any advice to offer the younger you? Is there anything they’ve learned which they wish they’d known sooner and acted on?
Wrap up your letter by thanking your present-day self for having the courage to make the kinds of changes that were needed to enable their life. You may want to specify habits that were changed, goals that were prioritised, and any sacrifices that were made.
6. Journaling prompts
If writing a letter feels too abstract for you, use journaling prompts to build an emotional connection with your future self. Here are some you could start with:
Think about your life in five years. Are you still doing the same kind of work you do now? Are you living in the same house? Who are the people you spend the most time with? What hobbies do you enjoy? You can then repeat the exercise, extending the time frame.
How are the actions you take today impacting your future in the next year / five years / 20 years?
What changes can you make today to have a more positive impact on your future?
7. Self coaching and motivation
The exercises above will help strengthen the all important connection with your future self. They also provide vital insights into the wheels that need to be put in motion to secure your future financial security in later life.
This awareness is important, but change requires actions to follow once you have this new knowledge. If you know you have some work to do to bolster your retirement savings for future ‘you’, what actions do you now need to take? When you have this list, keep motivated to act on it using FutureMe to send emails to yourself at scheduled times in the future. You can be your own best coach and cheerleader on this journey.
If you want to keep yourself accountable to save regularly for your retirement, you may want to schedule a sequence of emails as follows:
‘It’s time to set up your new SIPP / review how much is currently in your pension pot?’ (delete as appropriate).
‘Do you need to select / review (delete as appropriate) which fund you want your pension invested in?’.
‘Is your standing order set up to make sure money is being invested regularly into your retirement savings?’.
‘It’s time to hop on to a pension calculator and make sure that your contributions are sufficient to achieve your retirement income goal’. (You could send yourself this one every year).
‘Have your retirement goals changed? Think about the age at which you are planning to retire and the annual income you are hoping to have access to during retirement’.
‘Congratulations, it’s pay review month. Can you afford to increase your monthly pension contributions?’ (Send this every year on annual review month).
One day, you’re going to wake up and see a real life version of that digitally altered you staring back at you in the mirror. Acting now will give them the best opportunity to live their best life.
As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice.
Emma Maslin is a certified Financial Coach and Mentor, Financial Wellness Speaker and Founder of multi award-winning personal finance education website The Money Whisperer. A former Chartered Accountant, Emma believes financial health and wellbeing isn’t a luxury just for the wealthy; it’s a basic need for all of us.