In my final months at work, I had many conversations about retirement with friends and colleagues who asked about my plans and preparations and shared their own. I was struck by the wide range of attitudes they expressed. For some, retirement was a concrete reality, something they had visualized and thought about in detail. For others it was more abstract, as if it were going to happen to someone else entirely. You might expect this to correlate straightforwardly with age: the closer to retirement, the more concrete the thinking about it. That didn’t seem to be the case for many people.
It got me thinking about the relationships we have with our future selves. Preparing for retirement is a classic example of delayed gratification — something that “present you” does for the benefit of a distant “future you”. It made me wonder if the folks who were actively planning and preparing for retirement identified more strongly with their future selves than those whose approach was more lackadaisical.
Some interesting research has been done on this and related questions. I’ll mention more of it in the comment thread, but a good place to start is with this article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic:
The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.
The concluding paragraph:
This tells us that impulsivity and selfishness are just two halves of the same coin, as are their opposites restraint and empathy. Perhaps this is why people who show dark traits like psychopathy and sadism score low on empathy but high on impulsivity. Perhaps it’s why impulsivity correlates with slips among recovering addicts, while empathy correlates with longer bouts of abstinence. These qualities represent our successes and failures at escaping our own egocentric bubbles, and understanding the lives of others—even when those others wear our own older faces.