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How Your Future Self Can Help Your Present Wellbeing

Hadley’s Intro: See how to cope with current stressful challenges

with help from your future and past selves, courtesy of this

WashingtonPost.com article by Stacey Colino

We’ve all had moments when we wished we could
say, “Beam me up, Scotty!”

This desire to be in a better place or time is
related to a psychological strategy called
temporal distancing. Imagining ourselves in the
future is a way to cope with the stress and
anxiety of the present.

“Just because time travel takes place inside our
heads doesn’t mean it can’t change reality,”
said Hal Hershfield, a professor of marketing,
behavioral decision-making and psychology at the
University of California at Los Angeles’s
Anderson School of Management and author of the
book “Your Future Self: How to Make Tomorrow
Better Today.” “How you think about your
future can have a huge impact on your present and
future selves.”

Research shows that during the early days of the
pandemic, adults who were randomly assigned to
write letters to their future selves or from their
future selves to their current selves experienced
an immediate reduction in negative emotions and an
increase in positive ones, compared with those who
focused only on the present.

Another study found that using a
temporal-distancing technique helped both younger
and older teens regulate their emotions, easing
their self-reported distress.

And in a 2022 study of 160 women residing in the
San Francisco Bay Area, researchers found that
people who frequently engaged in temporal
distancing in response to daily stressful events
over an eight-day period experienced more positive
emotions and fewer negative emotions on a daily
basis.

“Stress is a part of life — engaging in
temporal distancing can put everyday stressors in
context in our lives and help us focus on the
impermanent nature of the stressor,” said Emily
Willroth, an assistant professor of psychological
and brain sciences at Washington University in St.
Louisand co-author of the 2022 study. “This
strategy also helps us challenge unhelpful or
harmful thought patterns.”

By using science-based techniques for temporal
distancing, you can ease your current distress and
enhance your mood and motivation, experts say.

Question your emotional reactions
When you’re stuck in a traffic jam and late for
a meeting or your credit card was fraudulently
used, your emotions may be running high. But will
this upsetting situation matter in the long run?
“We have a tendency to exaggerate how bad these
things are in the moment — our brains are not
good at distinguishing between things that need
immediate attention, like your house is on fire,
and things you’re stressed about that you
can’t do anything about today,” said Mark
Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience
at Duke University and author of the book “The
Curse of the Self.”

Pause and consider whether this situation is
likely to matter in a month, a year or 10 years.
Ask yourself: “Is this going to make a
difference to my overall life?” With many
sources of stress, the answer is likely no.

Shifting your perspective this way “helps you
detach from the emotions you’re experiencing,
which makes them seem less overwhelming,” said
Michele Patterson Ford, a licensed psychologist
and chair of the psychology department at
Dickinson College. “Taking a future perspective
reduces your emotional reactivity and your
cognitive reactivity, making it less likely that
you’ll overthink things.”

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Write a letter to your future self
If you’re feeling stuck, writing a letter to the
future you about what you want for your work,
school or personal life “can help you learn
about your priorities and generate new ideas for
how you might get there,” said Susan Krauss
Whitbourne, a professor of psychological and brain
sciences at the University of Massachusetts at
Amherst. “It’s almost like a recipe for
yourself. It gives you an arc into future hopes
for yourself, which is a positive motivator.”

Then think about the steps that can help you reach
that goal. Imagine future you reflecting back to
today and advising you on how to get to that
better place, such as taking courses to enhance
your skill set, networking in your field to
improve your work life, or upgrading your diet and
exercise habits to enhance your health and
fitness.

This mental exercise may feel like trying on
different roles and seeing what suits you as you
envision your future self. “It may seem
artificial, but there’s real value in it,
especially if it gets you out of a bad situation
now,” Whitbourne said.

It can also motivate you to make better decisions
now. Research by Hershfield and his colleagues
found that when college students wrote letters to
themselves 20 years in the future, those who felt
a greater connection with their future selves
exercised more in the days after the writing task.

Revisit the past
To help bolster your ability to weather the
current storm, Willroth recommends diving into
your past. Think about a time when your
circumstances felt stressful. Then appreciate how
that situation no longer affects your current
life. That alone can be reassuring and help you
put what’s happening into perspective.

You can also use lessons from your past. Think
about specific strategies that helped you navigate
that distressing period — such as talking to a
trusted friend, lightening your workload or
getting extra sleep — and consider employing
those strategies again. “Being able to take a
distance perspective can help with
problem-solving,” Ford said.

Visualize how you want to be in the future
If you are struggling to find motivation to make
changes, imagine how you want your future health
and life to be. Maybe you want to be fit enough to
actively play with your kids or grandkids. Maybe
you want to save money for a special trip or
retirement. The more vivid you can make this image
of your future self, the more likely you are to
take action on your future self’s behalf.

“Any time we’re going to make productive
changes, it requires imagining a future where
things are better based on those changes —
that’s a motivator,” Leary said. Research has
shown that when people engaged in a mental imagery
practice focused on their future self twice a week
for four weeks, their ability to view their future
self with an empathic perspective increased, which
helped them reduce procrastination.

How will your future and past selves help you create happy sexy love that lasts?

Hadley Finch

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