How many times in your adult life have you cursed younger you? "Dammit, past Eric, why didn't you start working out earlier?" Many bad habits occur because you and your future self aren't very close. If you want to improve those habits, get closer with that future you. As news site Vox explains, ongoing research into how the human brain perceives long-term habits found that the more you view your future self as you, the more likely you are to engage in better habits. However, many of us actually view our future selves as strangers. Literally. If you have poor long-term habits, your brain exhibits the same activity when thinking about your future self as it does when it thinks about a completely different person:
Hershfield has also confirmed this with brain imaging. When people are in an fMRI scanner, their rostral anterior cingulate cortex brain region — which usually shows a high level of activity when people think about themselves — quiets down when people are told to think about themselves in 10 years. In fact, our brain activity when thinking about our future selves looks surprisingly similar to what happens when participants are asked to think about other people altogether.
So, what's the solution? Start by thinking about your self in the long-term, regardless of your habits. You don't have to start with a savings plan or a workout regimen. Just start thinking about how you connect to your own future.
Anne Wilson, a psychologist at Wilfrid Laurier University, suggests using a timeline. By drawing out current events in your life and connecting them to events in the near future (like deadlines, or events), she found that students were more likely to feel connected to their future selves, and thus make better decisions. However you choose to make the connection, though, the more you can think of your future self as the same person you are, the easier it will be to internally justify being helpful to them.