Imagine yourself 10 or 20 years in the future. Not physically--because 40-year-old me would not have been happy with 60-year-old me--but in terms of who you are inside.
How you answer that question tends to put you in one of two basic camps.
Some people see themselves as basically the same: Where you live might change, your profession might change, your circumstances might change, but deep inside you see yourself as roughly the same. As social psychologists put it, you assume a strong continuity between today you and 20-years-from-now you.
Others see their future selves as very different from who they are today. They see little connection or continuity. They assume--or at least hope--that someday they will become very different.
My guess is you see where this is going: People who think their future self will be very different tend to be less "responsible" in terms of behavior.
Research bears out that assumption. One study shows that people with greater "present-future continuity" tend to exercise more. Another shows that those people tend to be more financially prudent and more likely to save money. Another shows that those people tend to behave more ethically, both personally and professionally.
Another shows that the degree of continuity you feel with your future self can actually predict your overall life satisfaction and well-being 10 years later.
As the researchers write:
When people are better connected to their future selves, they have an enhanced ability to recognize the consequences of their present-day decisions on their future selves.
And that's going to help them put the brakes on these behaviors.
Intuitively that makes sense. When I was young, I thought future me would somehow be different: That he would decide to get fit. Or save for retirement. Or just quit acting like such a doofus.
Who I was then and who I would someday be? Big disconnect.
Slowly, though, I realized that what I did today built the foundation for what I would become. That who I would be in 10 or 20 years would be the accumulation of the actions I would take in the years to come.
That someday being fit, relatively financially secure, or a lot less of a jerk--who I would be would result from the choices I made on a daily basis.
Choices that would either work for or against my hopes for future me.
Because consistency, not intensity, is what produces long-term results.
Want to someday be a successful entrepreneur? You won't get there by assuming that someday you'll magically be different. What you do now--gaining skills, forging connections, analyzing opportunities, etc.--will accumulate over time, and help you get there.
Want to lose weight? The choices you make now--improving your diet, exercising more, etc.--will accumulate over time and help you get there.
If you hope your future self will be smarter, or kinder, or wealthier, or more generous, or more successful--whatever you imagine your future self to be--see that person not as a stranger, but as fundamentally the person you are today.
Except different, due to the choices you make today.
And every day.