Future-self -nice to meet you

2018.05.17 Ads & Al present self.JPG“Holy sh*t! Don’t ever do that again!” was my husband’s response when I sent him age-progressed images of the two of us. The year, 2050. Our future selves. Adam, 76-years old and me, 71-years old.

For Adam, seeing the images of our future selves scared the sh*t out of him.

Perhaps it was a bit unfair of me to send him that unsolicited email of Grandpa Ads and Granny Al. At least when I saw my old wrinkly face, I was expecting it. In fact, I was seeking it out.

While doing my Masters research, I came across Hershfield’s work on age progression. I found Hershfield’s theory of the future-self fascinating. The coolest thing about Hershfield’s age progression study was that the participants got to meet, through virtual reality, avatars of their future older selves. If people could see their future selves would this radically influence their decisions? Would they start to behave in their own best interests?

How many of us, wish we could go back and chat with our younger selves? Give some sound advice, perhaps steer our younger selves away from some poor decisions. But we can’t go back in the past, we can only live in the present and plan for the future. And if this is the case, imagine the opportunity of getting to be in the same room as your much older-self. What would you want to say to him/her?  What do you think he/she would say to you?

Future-self avatars are obviously not crystal balls nor reflections of our future realities. But having “aged” myself with the Aging Booth app, it got me thinking. What emotions would I experience, as I gazed into the wrinkled face of my future-self avatar? Would a glimpse of my 71-year old future-self influence the decisions I make now as a 39-year old? Hershfield’s results showed that it would. Research participants who engaged with their future-self avatars allocated more money towards saving for retirement than those who had not.

On the flip side, people who consider their future-self as a different person may see no more reward in giving to their future self than giving to a stranger. Therefore, the importance of becoming “one” with our future-self generates a continuous cycle. The cycle begins with our present-self making prudent decisions which will create greater financial stability for our future-self. The vision of our financially secure future-self will, in turn, stimulate our present-self to save more. A kinetic energy is created by the future-self continuity cycle.

Over the past 18 years of being together, Adam and I have started to notice each other’s ageing process. Adam’s salt and pepper has progressively got a heavier shake of silvery flecks. My smiles lines have become ingrained from the years of laughing at his jokes. But besides our physical appearance, we have also become more accepting of our responsibilities and our roles in life. Perhaps, this is the natural progression towards mid-life. The older we get, the more positively skewed our future-self similarity becomes.

In parenting, the saying goes; the days are long, but the years are short. This saying feels particularly relevant when I think of my future-self. Adam and I have got 20+ more years before “official” retirement. But the gap between our future-selves and our present-selves will narrow more quickly than we will anticipate. So my aim is to get better acquainted with my 71-year old future-self and be able to say to her “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.”

To become better acquainted with your future-self try the AgingBooth app.


Hershfield, H. E. (2011). Future self-continuity: How conceptions of the future self transform intertemporal choice. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1235(1), 30–43. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06201.x

Hershfield, H. E., Goldstein, D. G., Sharpe, W. F., Fox, J., Yeykelis, L. E. O., Carstensen, L. L., & Bailenson, J. N. (2011). Increasing saving behavior through age-progressed renderings of the future self. Journal of Marketing Research, 2437, S23–S37.

Hershfield, H. E., Tess Garton, M., Ballard, K., Samanez-Larkin, G. R., & Knutson, B. (2009). Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow: Individual differences in future self-continuity account for saving. Judgement and Decision Making, 4(4), 280–286. http://doi.org/10.3851/IMP2701.

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