As humans, we struggle to truly consider the needs of our future selves either individually or as a species. In psychological terms, this is called a present bias, where we value current rewards over future ones.
This can influence a wide range of behaviours such as saving (or not) for retirement, exercising regularly and pursuing long-term projects (i.e. procrastinating). In some societies, the present bias is particularly strong, with a quick short-term profit for one person being valued over an infinity of future benefits.
And yet, what if we could listen across time? What might your 80-year-old self be asking you to do? What might you answer?
Why not have that conversation?
Full disclosure, personally I don’t yet see that 80-year-old as me – they feel like a different person. Even thinking about the future can be scary because it means accepting that one day we may be that old. But there are only 2 possible outcomes:
- We’ll live to be that old; or
- We won’t!
So the question for me is how do we empathize across time in case we make it? One possible suggestion is to create a photo of your aged self and use it to either have a conversation with your older self or to simply ask how that person would view this or that decision.
It also isn’t just about us – it is also the future generations that may be impacted by any decision. In this, I’ve found that going back in time and realising that we are but a small part of an ongoing conversation – through our DNA – with time and with the universe can be a source of humility.
If we truly embodied this and understood that we too are likely to be ancestors, how might we act differently in the present moment? Indeed, what sort of ancestor do you want to be?
Questions in the Image:
- How might we listen to our future selves?
- What if we could listen across time?
- What might your 80-year-old self be asking you to do?
- What might you answer?
Want to Read More Around This Topic?
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (link to Amazon.co.uk) is an interesting way to expand your thinking around this insight. This book explores how our brains perceive and imagine the future and why we often fail to predict what will make us happy. Gilbert delves into the concept of future selves, explaining the limitations of our imagination and biases that influence our decision-making.
Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – kissing a loved one as they leave for their day might be an opportunity to ask “Do they truly know how much I love them? How might I show them?” Even feeling bad after a meal is a reminder that we may take the opposite for granted – “Do I take feeling good for granted? Do I truly appreciate it? What practice might I create to ensure that each and every day I say thanks for what went well?“
About Tom O’Leary
My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.
The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.
And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.
That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.
How Might Tom Help?
- My first invitation is to take maximum advantage of the free content on this site.
- I also endeavour to answer every email so if you have any queries do reach out – you will find my address if you are curious. Your future self will thank you!
- If you would benefit from a face-to-face conversation, consider signing up for a Decision Coaching package (initial call plus follow up call).
- If you feel you would benefit from a chat without having to sign up for decision coaching, click on the button below to join the waiting list for the opportunity to speak face-to-face. No charge! You just need to make a case as to why we should speak.