To Be Better at Planning, Get to Know Your Future Self

‘Self-continuity’ is an underrated but vital decision-making strategy

Lesley Alderman, LCSW


Photo: David Marcu/Unsplash

TThinking about the future often invites a strange sort of cognitive dissonance: We have all sorts of expectations, hopes, and fears about it — but the image of who we’ll be remains murky. Many of us see our future selves as abstractions, or even as strangers.

In part, that’s accurate. One of the longest-running studies on personality found that our six core traits change almost completely between adolescence and old age. But for many of us, the difficulty in imagining what we’ll be like in five years, or in 50, is the result of cognitive biases — errors in thinking — that distort the way we understand the world and our place in it.

No one is completely immune to the bias of shortsightedness, which is baked into who we are as a species. “Our brains evolved for a very different world than the one in which we are living,” explained Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness, in a TED talk. “They evolved for a world in which people lived in very small groups; rarely met anybody who was terribly different from themselves; had rather short lives in which there were few choices, and the highest priority was to eat and mate today.”