Maybe It's Just Me, But...

Musings of a mildly mad multi-disciplinarian

Can "Seeing" Your Future Self Help You Save More—or Procrastinate Less?

Why is it important to visualize our future selves?
Timothy A Pychyl, Ph.D.
This post is a response to Procrastination: Is Your Future Self Getting a Bad Deal? by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D.

In this past weekend's The Wall Street Journal, Jason Zweig wrote about an interesting set of experiments that suggests that when people are shown pictures of themselves that are "computer aged"—similar to how images of missing persons are artifically aged to provide better guides for search—they are more likely to make prudent decisions regarding the future, such as saving more, since they can better empathize with their future selves.

Of course, a failure to save as much as desired can be an instance of procrastination, and in the book The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination, philosopher Christine Tappolet wrote about what procrastination reveals about our "concern" for our future selves. My fellow PT blogger Tim Pychyl wrote about Tappolet's work earlier (see the link above). In the chapter, she explains that procrastination shifts the burdens of work from present "selves" to future "selves," which reveals that we have less concern for our future selves than we would like to think—comparable, she argues, to our concern (or lack thereof) for other, distinct people.

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It is well known that a person is less likely to be mean or cruel to someone he or she can see than someone he or she can't (which help explain the extreme levels of vitriol on the relatively anonymous internet). Therefore, it stands to reason that if you "see" your future self, you might start to regard him or her as a real (if potential) person whose interests you should take into consideration. If so, you will make better, more prudent decisions that extend over time, like choices about savings behavior—and procrastination in general.

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You can follow me on Twitter and also at the following blogs: Economics and Ethics, The Comics Professor, and The Literary Table.

Mark D. White is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY.

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