I’m sure future Gareth is amazing. Well…..maybe. Actually, I don’t really know him, but some research suggests that maybe I should try to get to know him.
I just finished digesting a paper I found on the weekend (yeah that is me, partying hard all the time).
It is called “Future Self-Continuity Is Associated With Improved Health and Increases Exercise Behavior” by Rutchick et al. 2018.
They investigated whether future self-continuity was associated with health (Study 1) and then whether an intervention designed to connect individuals (undergrads) to their future self would impact on exercise behaviour (Study 2)
What the hell is future self-continuity?
Essentially, it the sense of similarity and connection one feels between one’s current self and their future selves.
It is assessed by items like the following:
How similar and connected do you feel to your future self?
How much you care about and like your future self? (from 1 [don’t care/like at all) to 7 (completely care/like)]
The idea is that the more connected you feel to your future self, the more likely it is you will act in the present moment in the services of your future self. Examples would be making healthy choices, saving money or working hard towards a specific goal. If you don’t have a good sense and connection with your future self, you may feel little point in optimising for anything except the present moment.
Ok, tell me more present moment Gareth….
In Study 1, they found that future self-continuity was positively correlated with self-reported health. Either, those who are connected to their future selves look after themselves a bit better, or those who look after themselves better experience a greater connection to their future self as a result.
Admittedly, I was most interested in Study 2 because it contained a writing intervention. Writing interventions are interesting to me right now, because I am preparing a writing workshop with Grace from SLSS. This means I have been revisiting papers that use writing interventions to modify some aspect of health. I’ve mentioned a few of these writing interventions on the blog previously (also here). You can write about intensely upsetting events, intensely positive events, your future self, reframing difficult events and many more.
Their writing intervention instructions were as follows:
“Think about who you will be 20 years from now, and write about the person you are now, which topics are important and dear to you, and how you see your life.”
You are writing a letter to your future self and telling them about your life. Pretty basic stuff, although I’ll admit that I would probably have provided a little more detail on how and what to write. I look at those instructions and am not quite sure how to start.
Generally, the health and wellbeing impacts gained from such writing exercises are modest. For example, in the Rutchick study, they saw an extra 3.66 minutes per day of exercise in the intervention group in the days following the intervention. Hardly anything to write home about (excuse the pun). But remember, these writing interventions are really brief. Theirs was only a few minutes.
Imagine what might be possible if you cultivated a better connection with your future self over time?
For me, the study sparks my curiosity of what would be possible if you went to greater lengths to cultivate a better connection with your future self.
You could go about this a few different ways:
- try the writing exercise from above
- do a detailed health behaviour audit of your life and identify which things have positive and negative long-term consequences
- look to find activities that make you feel good in the present moment, but are also likely to have positive benefits into the future (e.g. gardening)
- set some long-term goals and then work backwards to consider what implications they would have on how you behave on a day-to-day basis
- set aside some daydreaming time to mentally time travel into the future, and imagine the kind of future you want (you can do a negative version of this as well where you imagine your life if you don’t make good choices)
- imagine yourself in a negotiation with your future self about balancing what they want and what you want now
- try extending to your future self the same kind of caring you might feel for a loved one
- consider what life values you reckon you’ll have for the rest of your life
- you could pick different time frames (5 years, 10 years, 20 years, even more) and see how easy or hard it is to imagine yourself over those time frames
I’m sure there are other methods as well.
Just writing this blog post got me thinking more about future Gareth and whether he’d be OK with the chocolate I was eating today 🍫
But I’m young and indestructible!
Ahhh. I wish I could say the same. So do my aged hips.
When I was younger (20’s) I doubt I would have had the motivation or tendency to look that far into the future. I’m not sure I would have resonated with this exercise.
In hindsight, my main regret though is that I didn’t do this when I was younger with respect to personal finance. I didn’t take personal finance seriously until my mid-30s, at which point I had lost 15 years of potential compounding returns which is (spoiler) a lot! I do wonder if I had managed to convince myself at that point to be more future focused, I may have started some things that would be wielding their benefits now.
Thus, I do understand if this future focus/future self exercise doesn’t resonate with you at this time in your life. That is OK 😊 Perhaps it will appeal to future you!