August 8, 2019
A few weeks ago a free app was produced which could change your life. Seriously. You’ll know which one, because you’ll have seen everyone using it. I’ll tell you, if you haven’t already guessed, in a moment. But first.
“The past is a foreign country”. Unfortunately for us, so is the future. We see our present self and our future self as different people. The further into the future we look the harder it is for us to identify with that person as being us — we see them as literally different people.
The problem gets worse — we can’t imagine that in 20 years time we’ll be wiser than we are now. We don’t believe in our own evolution. It’s called the ‘End of History’ illusion.
Daniel Gilbert did a study of more than 19,000 people aged 18–68. They completed a questionnaire evaluating themselves now, ten years ago, and how they would answer a decade in the future. In general, the results showed that people knew that had changed a lot in the past ten years, but didn’t expect to change much in the next ten. Which clearly doesn’t make any sense — the results were the same across the age spectrum, so if at 38 you see a lot of changes since you were 28, great, but the same is true of someone at 48. We believe, regardless of how old we are, that this present state marks the end of our personal evolution.
As Leon Trotsky said, “Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happen”.
This also explains why we’re so terrible at pensions, exercise, planning ahead. Doing the small things now that will compound to great benefit when we’re older. If we could break this cognitive bias and see the older version of ourselves as us, as a realisation of everything we do between now and then, we could create a better future for our older selves.
I recently read about someone who, as a freelancer, found it easier to work if he imagined he was working for a client — the client being his future self. He found it much harder to waste time on the internet when it was *him* he was cheating on — this future version of himself. Rather than the version of him now, where it didn’t matter too much. Sure you can skip the gym today. What difference does it make?
Which brings me back to the start — last month an app called FaceApp did the rounds (again, it did the same a while ago) which can take a photo of you now, and age it so you look like an older version of you. (There’s a bit of controversy about Russians and data around it — that’s not the point here.)
When I did this I found myself strangely connected and affectionate towards this person. It was me, but it wasn’t. It was a relative I hadn’t met, yet one I had a responsibility towards.
I’ve found this photo to be useful in directing my efforts now. I don’t want to be that person looking back at myself now — as I look back at myself ten years ago — and regretting choices I made and wishing I’d done things differently. I know what I should be doing now — we all do — and this photo from the future helps motivate me to do it. Perhaps it will do for you.