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Practise being your future self

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Retirement, home-ownership and all the trappings of “adulthood” may seem like a long way off for many and, as our recent study shows, people are putting these responsibilities off for as long as possible. We found that almost one in five (18%) people were worried about their finances but over half (54%) still admit to treating themselves whenever they want. This disconnect between immediate desire and long-term goals has the potential to leave young people with some harsh surprises come retirement age.

Professor Darren Duxbury, Newcastle University Business School and the Behavioural Research in Finance (BRiF) group, put this down to the ‘present bias’ whereby people feel more impatient to do things the closer they get. Basically, our best-laid plans may be to save for the future, but when it comes down to it, forgoing things we want now just doesn’t seem as attractive.

So, how do you combat your impulsiveness, and turn it into rational living? We’ve compiled some tips for you to practice being your future self and, in turn, make more sensible decisions.

Work out who your future self is

Envisioning who you will become in the future is the first step to living it, and with the internet, this has never been easier. Mood boards on Pinterest are a perfect way to give yourself some inspiration, whether that’s a property or a new car. Not only will this keep you on track, but you may also find a few unique tips on how to save money when you do come to that big purchase. For day-to-day affirmations on this, why not try sticking a photo of your goal somewhere so that you see it regularly? That payday pair of shoes will seem a lot less attractive when there’s a picture of your dream home on your desk.

Meditation and mindfulness

Meditation might seem like something far removed from your busy life, but it’s surprisingly easy to do and can be hugely beneficial. Dr. Peter Malinowski is an expert on meditation and professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores University. Through extensive research on the topic, he’s found that just “10 minutes of daily mindful breath awareness practice improves the awareness of automatic and impulsive behaviours, thoughts and emotions and helps to stop these in their tracks.”

Quick tip:
Studies have shown meditating can reduce stress hormones in people prone to overeating, and help them lose weight over time

To do this, Malinowski suggests trying these breathing practices, whereby you “sit upright, breathe naturally and direct your attention to your nostrils, trying to gain a vivid sensation of the air streaming in and out.” He states that the goal is not to suppress distractions, just recognise them and let them go, and “doing this over and over again, improves our abilities to detect our own mental states, to stay focused and to let impulsive thoughts and feelings pass by. This provides the space to engage with what is relevant and let go of what is not.”

Studies have even shown that these activities reduce stress hormones in people prone to overeating, and helps them lose weight over time1. That new measured approach could go some way to help you change the habit of a lifetime and perhaps gain some weight in the wallet department.

A letter to a new you

Through writing to who you may be in 10 – or even 30 – years’ time, you can better visualise your future self as a real person rather than just a distant idea. Think about the goals you want to reach in those years, and how you will feel knowing you planned ahead for their present. You can also imagine the replies you would be likely to give. Would you be disappointed or proud of your self-discipline and ability to look ahead?

If it makes it feel less daunting, split each part of your life into different headings (such as healthcare, kids’ education and retirement) and go over what life should hopefully be like for you at that point.

There are even online programs such as FutureMe.org,2 which allow you to write emails to yourself, that will then be sent on a specific date. Ideal if you’re the type of person who needs regular pep talks. 

Ask yourself what matters

To curb the temptation to think only in the here and now, there are questions you can ask yourself which help put things in perspective. These include:

  • Do I need this or just want it?
  • Is this spending something I’ll regret at the end of the month/year?
  • Can I scale back this splurge to something smaller or cheaper?

In the same way that explaining a joke makes it unfunny, putting your reckless behaviour into words brings things into stark reality. You’ll be surprised how justifying your decisions changes your outlook entirely.

Create realistic milestones

Find out how picturing yourself in the future can help you save.

It’s important to remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but nothing is more motivating than achieving those little wins. Set specific milestones that are still challenging but reachable with effort. A timeline of events such as savings objectives, things you’d like to learn and where you’d like to be career-wise keep the momentum you need. Once again, visibility is key: Your success timeline is no use tucked away at the bottom of a drawer.

Overall, just remember you’re only human. One takeaway coffee won’t ruin your future, but one every day for years can certainly put a spanner in the works. If you cave, don’t be defeated, just vow to get back on track and keep in mind the bigger picture.

Additional sources

[1] Daubenmier, J., Kristeller, J, Hecht, F. M. et al., (2011). Mindfulness intervention for stress eating to reduce cortisol and abdominal fat among overweight and obese women: An exploratory randomized controlled study. Journal of Obesity, 2011
[2] www.futureme.org

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