Understanding Your Future Self in Building a Personal Health Plan

Raise the odds of being in good physical and financial health later in life

In 2010, the stark reality of Americans’ widespread lack of retirement savings hit home with a dramatic survey. Its headline-grabbing finding: “Americans fear outliving their money more than they fear death.” Among people aged 44 to 49, more than three out of four feared running out of money more than dying; that figure rose to 82% if the respondents were married with children.


So, if we really do fear running out of money so much, why do we do such a poor job of saving for our later years? And, given the steep costs of later-life healthcare expenses, why don’t we take better care of ourselves now so that our later lives will be better?


These questions take on added meaning in light of continuing longevity gains. In 2013, according to U.S. government projections, a 65-year-old man would live, on average, another 17.9 years, while a female of that age would live another 20.5 years. And these are averages. Many people will live well into their 90s. A married couple can bank on one of them surviving into their 10th decade of life.


There are, of course, lots of reasons why we don’t do a better job here. But one of the most intriguing causes is that we don’t have a good sense of what our later lives will be like, including who the later versions of our current selves will be.


Research published in 2011 used imaging software with current photos of research subjects and “aged” them into 20-year-older digital avatars of themselves. Having seen what they looked like, people related more strongly to their future selves and empathized with the challenges they would face in their later years.


Among other findings, the study concluded that the added empathy that people felt for their later selves caused them to boost current savings and invest more money for their futures. “In all cases,” researchers said, “those who interacted with their virtual future selves exhibited an increased tendency to accept later monetary rewards over immediate ones.”


Researchers are broadening the concept into health behaviors. “We’re hoping to present people with full-body images of themselves in the future that show how diet and exercise will change them,” one of the researchers told the Harvard Business Review in 2013.


As is now the case about most human activities, there are lots of software apps you can use to see future versions of yourself. One, developed by a British firm, will actually use your device’s camera to download a real-time version of your image and, before your eyes, morph it into a future you. It will then let you speak with the future you about what life will be like in 20 years (This app requires Google’s Chrome browser). Another app was developed by a financial services firm and is geared toward using “you” to improve your financial planning.


If you pay attention to yourself in the future, you can raise the odds of being in good physical and financial health by the time your future becomes your present!

Posted on: August 18, 2015
Philip Moeller is co-author of The New York Times bestseller, "Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security." He is working on a companion guide to Medicare that will be published in fall of 2016. Moeller currently writes for Money Magazine and PBS NewsHour's Making Sen$e, and is a research fellow at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.


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