The future self that you want to be…

This is quite an interesting discussion about our future self and I am sure it would appeal to most of us. It did appeal to me, because I have experienced it first-hand and I continue to experience it every now and then.  I think we all experience that we decide to do something (say exercise) for a better future self,  but cannot sustain regular efforts to achieve that desirable future self. Probably there is  a desire, but not enough commitment towards sustained efforts over a longer period of time.

Here are two interesting TED talks about the future self and associated behaviour and psychology.

The battle between your present and future self by Daniel Goldstein

The first talk is by Daniel Goldstein. He is a behavioural economist, and that means that he studies behaviour related to finances, economics.  He runs the blog Decision Science News.  Goldstein is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a former professor at London Business School, and member of the academic advisory board of the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK.

In this talk, Goldstein discusses how we often know how to get where we want to – but simply lack disciplined efforts to walk that path. For example, we know regular exercise and healthy diet could help us reach that desired future self that is 10 KG lighter, but it’s difficult to sustain exercise and diet for longer period. It’s all the more difficult to resist your favourite ice-cream or dessert on such personal journey (an experience based tip – don’t say ‘I am resisting’.  You can have it on empty stomach if you want – and promise yourself one such occasion!)

Though Goldstein talks about financial discipline to achieve desirable lifestyle and future-self later in this talk, most of it can be applied to any other aspect of life where we can achieve what we want, with our commitment and self-discipline.  This is how Goldstein puts it –

If you set goals for yourself and you’re like a lot of other people, you probably realize it’s not that your goals are physically impossible that’s keeping you from achieving them, it’s that you lack the self-discipline to stick to them.

It’s physically possible to lose weight. It’s physically possible to exercise more. But resisting temptation is hard. The other reason that it’s difficult to resist temptation is because it’s an unequal battle between the present self and the future self.

Listen to his talk as explains this battle between the present self and the future self.

Daniel Goldstein  also discusses commitment devices, their use and limitations.  He also talks about VR (virtual-reality) based behavioural time machine that shows people what future might be like, based on your own choices, lifestyle and behaviour.  It is wonderful to see those simulations about the future. Again, I’d suggest that you see this beyond obvious financial details that he is discussing with respect to savings. It could apply to anything in future!

The psychology of your future self by Daniel Gilbert

This other TED talk is by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. He says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong. He believes that, in our ardent, lifelong pursuit of happiness, most of us have the wrong map. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes – and fool everyone’s eyes in the same way – Gilbert argues that our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.

In this TED talk he cites research with many examples for day-to-day life and argues that we are really not good at predicting our own future self.  This is how Gilbert puts it  –

The question is, as a psychologist, that fascinates me is, why do we make decisions that our future selves so often regret?

He further explains that his research found that people cannot predict their future self  more or less accurately. We often remember better than we can imagine, and thus assume stability of our current choices, preferences for a longer time but easily forget how much we have changed in the last few years, say in a decade or so. The reason this is important because it invariably biases our decisions in the favour of our current choices, preferences, likes and dislikes assuming that they would be stable over a longer period of time.

Do listen to short talk as he exemplifies his argument with change in values, likes and so on…

This is something immensely beautiful from Gilbert’s talk –

The bottom line is, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences. It reshapes our values. It alters our personalities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect. Only when we look backwards do we realize how much change happens in a decade. It’s as if, for most of us, the present is a magic time.


The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change!

The future self that you want to be…

In Buddhism or Buddhist psychology, one of the important concepts is: Impermanence, also called Anicca or Anitya. Nothing is permanent and everything changes.  Whether we like it or not – we are going to get old and we all are going to die someday. Wouldn’t it be more fulfilling to see us becoming the future self we desire to be?  We only have control over our actions in the present – so if there is a desirable future self that you want to be – you need to decide the actions that would lead you to it, and more importantly commit to those actions, efforts over a period of time that is required to take you there.

In personality theories series, I had briefly mentioned locus of control:Those with internal locus of control believe that they can influence outcomes of the events in their life, on the other hand those with external locus of control believe that outcomes of the events in their life are controlled by external or environmental factors. I firmly believe that we all have a control over our life up to a large extent despite few factors outside our control.

There could be unexpected hurdles, we may slip few times or give in to our temptations – but if we really want to see our future self as we desire, we need to commit and walk that path. It is immensely satisfying to know that you’re walking on the path where you want to go. Maybe reaching there slowly, but surely!

About the featured image:

The featured image for this article is a screen-shot of a YouTube video.

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