Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.
No matter your age, how to plan for your future financial security is likely a topic that you have pondered. Maybe you have even done a little something about it. You may have saved some money. Thought about the best locale for golf (or whatever hobby you will have). Figured out when to start Social Security. Talked with a financial adviser. Or wrote down a financial plan.
While these are all great planning activities, you might be missing something important.
The Best Way to Plan for Your Future Financial Security? Imagine It!
Perhaps the best way to plan for your future is to imagine it — really think about the details of who you will be, where, and why. Being able to visualize now who you will be in the future and what your needs and desires will be at that time is perhaps the most important aspect of planning.
In psychological circles, the idea of being able to imagine yourself in the future is called “self-continuity.” It is a concept that has been around since at least the ancient Greeks, and scientists have discovered that you are better off if you can somehow connect to this future self.
It turns out that visualizing your future does a couple of important things with regard to retirement planning. By connecting with your future self:
- You can create a better retirement plan — one that suits what you will want to be doing.
- It helps ensure that you do create a plan and that you do the things you need to do now — saving money, keeping healthy, and maintaining friends — so that you will have a better future.
Research suggests that our brains naturally process our future selves as strangers. And, let’s face it — you are unlikely to save for the retirement expenses or care for the body of a stranger. It turns out that by visualizing yourself in the future and “getting to know” that person, you are more likely to take steps now to take care of this future version of yourself.
Whether you are 40 and hoping to retire in 30 years or if you are 67 and hoping you have enough resources to fund the rest of your life, the following are six ways to visualize your future so that you can create and achieve a really effective plan:
1) Imagine Yourself Older, and Get Detailed
To increase the likelihood that you plan for your future, researchers suggest that you imagine yourself in the body of one of your own grandparents or great-grandparents. Think about what this older version of yourself wants to do and where this person is living. Consider this person paying the bills in retirement. By visualizing yourself in retirement — and writing down these thoughts to make them more real — you may be far more likely to adequately prepare for being this older person.
The more detail you can visualize about your future self, the better job you will do planning and preparing for that person.
Visualize answers to the following questions for different ages in your future:
- How you spend your time. Are you working in any way? What are your hobbies? How active are you?
- What is your daily routine?
- Who do you see on a regular basis? What are your relationships with them?
- What might have gone wrong in your life? (Can you do anything now to prevent that from happening?)
- Are you healthy? What are you doing to maintain health?
- How do you dress?
- Where do you live? What city? What kind of home?
- Consider how your current and past aspirations connect to your future self.
Studies suggest that retirement savings and other positive behaviors increase when the saver can understand that they are saving for an actual person (themselves) with real needs in the future.
2) Think When, Not If
If you want to know how to plan for your future, you might want to make sure that you are using the word “when” and not “if” when talking about your goals and plans. For example, instead of saying “if I save enough to retire at 62,” change your way of thinking to be “when I save enough to retire at 62.”
Saying “when” not “if” is a little mind trick that will help you create a plan that will enable you to achieve your goals.
3) Write a Letter to Your Future Self
It can be a little mind-bending, but people who have done it say that it is incredibly powerful to write a letter to your future self. You can talk about your life right now and how you hope it will grow and change by the time you reach the age of the person you are writing. So, if you are 63 now, you might want to write to your 75-year-old self. As you think about who that future person is and ponder what you want to say to them, you’ll really be able to connect to your future in profound ways.
There is even a nonprofit service that enables you to email your future self — FutureMe.org. You write the email now, and they will deliver it to you on the future date you request.
4) Consider How Big and Small Choices Now Determine Options for Your Future
Every choice you make right now has ramifications for your future. You have probably heard the analogy about throwing a tiny pebble into a pond and watching how the small disturbance to the water can create massive concentric waves that reach every shore.
Your big and small choices right now are like that for your future self.
- What you eat and how you exercise and other health choices will certainly impact who you are in 20 years.
- How you spend time now — working long hours, watching TV, developing hobbies — lays the groundwork for your future.
- Who you spend time with and how much effort you put into those relationships with family and friends can determine whether or not they will be a meaningful part of your future self’s life.
- How much you spend and how much you save now will limit or expand what options you have in the future.
5) Ask Yourself How Something Impacts Your Future Self
For everything you do, it may be worthwhile to consider whether it has a long-term benefit. If it doesn’t positively affect both your current and future selves, is it really worth doing?
This doesn’t mean that you are forgoing pleasure. You are just having a longer-term view and choosing things that make you happy both now as well as into the future. If you want to know how to plan for your future you need to start thinking about how all big and small choices you make now will impact your life when you are retired.
6) Create a Vision Board
Popularized by the book, “The Secret,” vision boards have become a trendy way to help you imagine your future. A vision board is a collage of images and words of things that inspire and motivate you. Ideally, the things you put on the board make you feel something. You can clip images from magazines and have a vision board on your refrigerator or use Pinterest to create a digital vision board.
Some may feel that this idea is a little too “new-agey,” but science really does back up the idea that visualization works.
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