NEW YORK – Staying committed to healthy habits can be daunting. We are constantly faced with tradeoffs. Cooking at home versus indulging in a night out. Waking up early to exercise versus getting that extra hour of sleep. New research from Columbia Business School, UCLA and California State University Northridge examines these day-to-day decisions and finds that the more connected you feel to your future self, the more likely you are to adopt healthier habits today, tomorrow and thereafter.
While there have been several studies on the financial benefits of future self-continuity (the connection one feels to the future self), this is the first study to investigate the link between future self-continuity and long-term decision-making related to one’s health.
“Our findings can help people circumvent the pitfalls of behavioral health changes,” said Michael Slepian, Assistant Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. “What the research shows is, if you can get people to think about their connection to their future selves, you can also get them to visualize the repeated health decisions they will need to make to improve their long-term health.”
Future Self-Continuity and Your Health
Through two studies, Slepian and his co-authors, Abraham Rutchick, Monica Reyes, Lindsay Pleskus and Hal Hershfield, found evidence that a stronger connection between present and future selves is associated with better health and lifestyle choices. In the first study, the researchers assessed the relation between future self-continuity and self-reported health. In the second study, they implemented a brief intervention—writing a letter to one’s future self—to explore the effects of future self-continuity on exercise behavior over time. The researchers compared focusing on one’s self far in the future, 20 years from now, to focusing on a near future self, 3 months from now. They discovered that exercise behavior increased as a result of focusing on one’s connection with the self far in the future, thus showing long-term decision-making potential.
According to the researchers, it is possible that increasing future self-continuity would not only promote positive healthy behavior like exercising, but also prevent negative behaviors like overeating. The findings of this study could be applied to other behavioral health domains including skincare, such as sunscreen use and tanning salon use, dental care, such as regular flossing and routine dental visits, and road safety, such as texting while driving.
Future Self-Continuity and Your Life
Beyond healthy living, highlighting future self-continuity could help people develop new skills for new careers or promotions. Likewise, when it comes to saving money, whether for a child’s college education or a future home purchase, the more connected one feels to the future self, the more one might feel capable and ready to start putting money away today.
The paper, “Future Self-Continuity Is Associated With Improved Health and Increases Exercise Behavior,” was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology and is available online at: http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fxap0000153.
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researcher
Michael Slepian is the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics in the Management Division of Columbia Business School...Read more.