RSS

What Is Your Relationship With Your Future Self?

October 27, 2013

Philosophy, Procrastination, Self

Procrastination

Most of my financial planning clients feel strongly that they are willing to forgo present consumption for the sake of future consumption i.e. they are willing to make sacrifices now to ensure a financially secure retirement for themselves in the future. However, a few have no desire to make this sacrifice and simply don’t feel that their future selves should in any way determine how they should act today. Now, it’s only too easy to criticize this latter view as being selfish and short-sighted, but I want to suggest that it may have more to do with their understanding of what constitutes the ‘self’.

If you believe in a unified concept of the self (see my recent post: The Importance of Getting Lost) that endures over time, where the future is as equally a part of you as the present, then it makes sense to criticize any neglect of your future self. On the other hand, if you deny the existence of a single entity persisting over time and think of the ‘self’ as being more a series of overlapping selves connected by memories and similarities of character and interests, then it makes sense that you might feel more separate from your future self than, say, from another person. This suggests the possibility that it might indeed be rational to neglect one’s future self in favor of one’s current self.

If you doubt this reflect for a moment on the nature of procrastination. Does this not involve imposing a burden on your future self that you don’t want to impose on your current self? If you repeatedly procrastinate does it not say something about how you regard your future self, that you are consistently willing to impose burdens on him or her rather than impose them on your current self? This suggests that our relationship with our future selves is not all that different from our relationship with other human beings. The solution to treating others badly is to develop empathy, putting oneself in the shoes of another. Perhaps we can use the same technique to solve the problem of procrastination, by putting ourselves in the shoes of our future self and convincing ourselves that our future self is just as much in need of care and concern as our present self?

___________________________

“I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.”  Susan Orlean

, , , , ,

About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

54 Comments on “What Is Your Relationship With Your Future Self?”

  1. unfetteredbs Says:

    I admittedly and somewhat abashedly confess to being a procrastinator. I guess I’m not that kind to myself. I like to work myself up into a ball of acid stress. I work better under pressure. Great thought provoking post as usual Malcolm.

    Reply

  2. Morgan Mussell Says:

    Well, on one hand, I do not believe in some unified, unchanging self, but what you call, “a series of overlapping selves connected by memories and similarities of character and interests.” Or as Buddhists see it, an impermanent collection of aggregates upon which a self is imputed, but has no inherent existence.

    However, I’m quite cognizent of planning for the future. There’s ultimate truth and relative truth, and my impermanent, dependently arisen self likes being living under a roof that doesn’t leak, having enough to eat, and being able to afford an internet connection.

    Lack of future planning can actually lead to tragic outcomes, as in the case of a boyhood hero, Mickey Mantle. A week before he died in 1995 of cirrhosis and liver cancer, he said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Morgan, thank you for this great comment. The argument that however distant and strange my future self, it’s still me in some way who is going to feel pain and discomfort in the future, is, in my opinion the strongest argument against the concept of overlapping selves. You seem to have found a way around this by using the concepts of ultimate and relative truth. Sounds like a deeper conversation for another day.

      Reply

  3. Eric Tonningsen Says:

    I nurture and nourish both. It’s mutual appreciation and recognition of the now and the to come.

    Reply

  4. renxkyoko Says:

    reminds me of something…… but I maybe wrong. But I always think of my future self, without disregarding for a moment my present self. It’s good.

    Reply

  5. dalo2013 Says:

    An intriguing post… I tend to vacillate between my ‘present and future’ at extremes. My retirement account looks decent, but too often put things off to the 11th hour with regularity. Kind of a feast or famine with me at times…

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. I’m glad to hear that someone else experiences these very normal behaviors. I suspect that vacillating between extremes in this way is much more common than most people realize.

      Reply

  6. NicoLite Великий Says:

    I blame my past self, at some points, for being short-sighted, and thus causing grief to my present self. Of course, there are instances where I couldn’t have known that it was a bad idea when I was doing it, but just as often as I could have known it. Since my present self is my future past self, which I don’t want to put more blame on, which is proportional to the grief my future self will experience, I do try to plan ahead and evenly spread the boons I am granted.

    Reply

  7. jan Says:

    Do you make safe choices even if they’re not what you really want because of FEAR. Is It about taking chances, It’s a shame in never conquering your fear, Go for it

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Jan, thank you. I’m sure fear is often a factor. For example, should I take an early distribution from my retirement fund to help start a new business? Fear of not having enough money for retirement in the future has to be balanced against the advantage of being able to follow a dream now and start a business. It’s never an easy trade-off.

      Reply

  8. Steve Says:

    Very interesting question at the end of your post, especially since that’s how I tend to operate. I often find delayed gratification effortless when I imagine my future self benefitting from choices I made in the past (no need to dress in multiple layers when I’m 75 or 80 – I saved enough to ensure I could afford to heat my house in old age…) But some people seem to be hardwired quite differently. Most, in fact, appear to have a much higher “discount rate” when it comes to the present vs. future value of “gratification” or happiness.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Yes, I can see how visualization would definitely help here. Also, I like your use of the term “discount rate” for the present versus future value of gratification. That’s exactly what it is

      Reply

  9. becwillmylife Says:

    I like thinking in this way about procrastination and our future selves. I’m going to try to weave your idea into the next conversation I have with my college age son (Mr. last minute).

    Reply

  10. chr1 Says:

    Well said. We all need to be reminded of this from time to time.

    Reply

  11. Michele Seminara Says:

    What Morgan said! And what interesting ideas you come up with Malcolm…I always look forward to reading. 🙂

    Reply

  12. Holistic Wayfarer Says:

    “This suggests that our relationship with our future selves is not all that different from our relationship with other human beings.”

    Only M Greenhill could come up with a paradigm transfer like this. Nice job.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you Holistic Wayfarer. I believe that’s a compliment 😉

      Reply

      • Holistic Wayfarer Says:

        I couldn’t resist sharing this title if you haven’t beaten me to it, MG – The Confessions of Max Tivoli. It is rewarding to let the story surprise you apart from the revealing synopsis that comes with the reviews. Basically about a man who is born old and grows younger every year. I’m only halfway but am very much enjoying the writing. Greer has a way of describing the moment “bouquet of cigar smoke” I imagine you would take to. I thought the concept of a life swimming countercurrent to the world would intrigue you. It is also a love story. (Aren’t the best novels? =))

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          HW, please hug yourself with delight for having beaten me to this one. I must admit that when I first read your comment I thought that you had confused The Confessions of Max Tivoli with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which was also made into a film. However on researching this it seems that Mr. Greer claims that he had no knowledge of the Scott Fitzgerald story when he wrote his own, and he says the two stories are completely different.

          “Greer has a way of describing the moment “bouquet of cigar smoke” I imagine you would take to. I thought the concept of a life swimming countercurrent to the world would intrigue you.

          How do you know me so well?

        • Holistic Wayfarer Says:

          Congratulate myself I will. My husband was reminded of B Button when I told him about this one. Tivoli’s making his way in “a time-twisted body” is actually incidental to the story of one navigating the vicissitudes of love in this predicament.

          “The smell of butter and cream, the bowl like a girl’s head of golden curls – a dreamworld of memories.” I covet Greer’s artistry. Enjoy!

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          You don’t need to covet anyone’s artistry HW. I will read Greer after I have learned to move with FK, stand with the Alexander Technique and talk like James Joyce. How much do you charge for time management lessons?

        • Holistic Wayfarer Says:

          I am sad it doesn’t sound like you’ll be getting to Greer anytime soon, as you’d made it clear you can’t mind FK at the present. And my inability to post here betrays me and your undue impressions: I wish I were qualified indeed to charge for such services. =)

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          On your recommendation I will read Greer now.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          I am listening to it now and tracking Tivoli’s footsteps in historic San Francisco. For example, the location of Woodwards Gardens still exists and I will probably visit it tomorrow as it is near my climbing gym. I also looked up the incident when Blossom Rock was blown up next to Yerba Buena Island. Thank you. I already see why you recommended it. You better write a relevant post so we can discuss it 🙂

        • Holistic Wayfarer Says:

          Very neat. I banked on my record, with Born to Run and Cleopatra both home runs. You might go ahead with your own post on this one. I’ve been hard pressed to find the time for the next post…which happens to be on (that is, about) time and hadn’t really planned on weaving Tivoli into.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Just finished Tivoli…GULP.

  13. Bonnie Marshall Says:

    Enlightening…posting and comments )

    Reply

  14. Andreas Moser Says:

    I don’t save for retirement because I have no idea if I will like the person I will be in 25 or 35 years (even if it will still be the same self). I might at that time find that person to be totally undeserving of what my now saves. http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/most-important-investment-advice-3/

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Exactly right, Andreas. However, whether or not it will be the same self it will still be you that suffers the pain and hunger of destitution when you run out of money.

      Reply

      • Andreas Moser Says:

        As I am European, “pain and hunger of destitution” are not a very likely experience in old age. All EU countries (except Greece, I believe) have some minimum retirement income that one will receive regardless of the contributions made into the system.

        And in the worst case, I could still work. If I won’t be healthy and sane enough to work as a lawyer anymore, then I won’t want to live anyway,

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Andreas, I appreciate your follow-up comment but most European countries have the same problem as the U.S. i.e. they have promised much more than they can deliver. There is no way that all the obligations made by these governments can be honored and so, sooner or later, they will default on some of these obligations. Personally I think that they when they default they should choose to default on bond holders, who at least took on some risk. Recipients of social security retirement benefits did not assume any risk. However, I certainly would not want to rely on governments to make the ‘right’ choice.

        • Andreas Moser Says:

          Given the history of the last decades if not centuries, I’ll trust the retirement system of a democratic state (i.e. a state relying on the votes of its increasingly older voters) much more than that run by a bank or a broker or an insurance company. A lot of people are poor because they trusted some investment advisors or salesperson at a bank; a social security cheque has never been late.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Andreas, I would not be so quick to use the experience of history. The definitive account of credit crises is the book by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, This Time It’s Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. These crises always end with one form of default of another. Reinhart and Rogoff document the default(s) of virtually every country in the developed and developing world including the United States. The U.S. defaulted on its debt in 1812, after the Civil War (if one counts the default on confederacy debt) and 1933 if one includes the abrogation of the gold clause.

  15. Gregoryno6 Says:

    An interesting perspective on a subject close to my heart.
    Procrastination – it’s the one thing I can’t put off until tomorrow.

    Reply

  16. The Savvy Senorita Says:

    Oh dear, I think I fall into a lost cause category! I have no financial plan for my future and ensuing old age. I never liked to work in once place long enough to consider in-work pensions, and learnt private pensions required huge financial monthly payments to make them worthwhile. I suppose living in today’s world I chose not to sacrifice the now for a future I couldn’t predict. Well, I can predict one thing, I will be very poor and possibly destitute! Yet, perhaps I have decided to accept my old age in that state, rather than being that way in my ‘youth’. I never felt in a position to be able to have everything I required financially, including pensions and so on, and actually always prefered an instant gratification, rather than thinking of the long term incentive. I suppose if I had thought it through more carefully I would have been more savvy, ironically!

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Bex, there is no need to feel regrets. I’ve seen plenty of people save diligently for their old age and die before they had a chance to spend a penny. I’ve also seen plenty of people without the proverbial “pot to pee in” who are very happy with their life. Attitude is everything.

      Reply

      • The Savvy Senorita Says:

        Yes indeed. I always hope I will have just enough to get by unscathed, as I am not greedy! Ahhh, very true Malcolm, as I actually do think that my families history, and ethos influenced or reinforced my desire not to save. Seeing their examples proved that saving, pensions and deferring things to an old age, just doesn’t always go to as planned.

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: