“That’s a problem for future Homer. Man, I don’t envy that guy.”
PROBLEMS PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Most of us don’t save enough for retirement or eat as healthy as we should. We also use energy sources that we know aren’t sustainable. In general, we are not very good at planning for the future. As this Simpsons quote illustrates, the problem is that your brain literally sees your future self as a stranger. How is this possible?
SEEING YOUR FUTURE SELF AS A STRANGER
In one study, researchers scanned people’s brains and instructed them to think about either their current self, a celebrity (Natalie Portman or Matt Damon), or themselves in 10 years. The scans looked nearly identical for the future self and the stranger.
Similarly, Jason Mitchell at Harvard has found that when we picture ourselves experiencing something pleasurable a year from now many of us use the brain areas involved in imagining a stranger.
This explains why we give our future selves jobs we don’t feel like doing in the present. It also explains why people who choose more closely overlapping circles below tend to be better at planning for their future.
USING THIS IN YOUR LIFE
Hal Hershfield has found one way to apply this. People who spend a few minutes getting acquainted with a computer-generated simulation of what they might look like in the future make better decisions about retirement planning.
However, Hershfield doesn’t think it is problematic to see our future self as a stranger as long as it is a stranger we care deeply about and are considerate of.