Your brain works in really weird ways when you imagine yourself in the future. FMRI scans show that your brain “stops acting as if you’re thinking about yourself,” writes Jane McGonigal in Slate. “Instead, it starts acting as if you’re thinking about a completely different person… your brain acts as if your future self is someone you don’t know very well and, frankly, someone you don’t care about.”

The survey found 53 percent of Americans say they rarely or never think about the “far future,” or something that might happen 30 years from today. Twenty-one percent report imagining this future less than once a year, while the largest group of respondents, 32 percent, say it never crosses their mind at all.

Likewise, 36 percent of Americans say they rarely or never think about something they might personally do 10 years from now. The largest group of respondents, 19 percent, think about this 10-year future less than once a year, while another 17 percent say they never think about it at all.

What’s concerning is that a lack of ability to think about the future can have impacts on the decisions we are making today and which will affect us for years to come. As UCLA researcher Hal Hirschfield put it: “Why would you save money for your future self when, to your brain, it feels like you’re just handing away your money to a complete stranger?” Likewise, a lack of environmental protections, our inability to address the impacts of automation, etc… set us up for a less than ideal future.

Bill: Hey! Can we have some heat back here?
“Future” Bill: Shut up, Bill.
Ted: That other you’s a real jerk.
Bill: Yeah. I’ll be more considerate to myself when I become him.
“Future” Ted: He said shut your holes!

To get started thinking about the future Jane McGonigal suggest the following:

Make a list of things that you’re interested in — things like food, travel, cars, the city you live in, shoes, dogs, music, real estate. Then, at least once a week, do a google search for “the future of” one of the things on your list. Read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a video — and get some specific ideas of what the future of something you care about might be like.


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