How different is the ‘you’ of now compared to the ‘you’ of 10 years ago?

Are you where you thought you’d be in life or on a completely different track? And how much do you think you’ll change over the next 10 years?

Research shows that if we feel our identity is similar to how we’ll be in the future, we’re better able to delay gratification, save money, and take care of our health. If we think we’ll change a lot in the future, we’re less likely to take those actions.

But do people who identify with their future selves actually do better once you talk to them again 10 years later? That’s what a group of researchers wanted to find out.

They used data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, which included interviews and self-reported questionnaires with thousands of people across the US.

Some of the questions asked them about their current behaviour and how they think they would change in 10 years – including for characteristics like their wisdom, care, energy, knowledge and sense of calm.

By measuring the difference in scores between the present and future, the researchers could get an idea of how much people thought they would change over the next 10 years. Then, they did the follow up with these people a decade on, looking at their ‘life satisfaction score’ as a measure of how well they were doing and answering those same questions about wisdom, knowledge and the like.

The researchers found there was a link between forecasting you will be similar in the future and being satisfied with your life down the track. That was the case even if you did end up changing quite a bit. What was important was believing that you’d be the same and that was independent of factors that might suggest stability and good fortune, like wealth and age.

Implications

Thinking of your future self, not just the near term, can encourage you to make changes that will positively affect your life in the future. But don’t worry about it too much – even if you do change a lot, as long as you broadly expect to identify with your future self, you’ll do well.

Last Reviewed: 17/03/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: Reiff, et al (2019). Identity Over Time: Perceived Similarity Between Selves Predicts Well-Being 10 Years Later. Social Psychological and Personality Science doi: 10.1177/1948550619843931.

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