The future self exercise, crafting a clear picture of who you are going to be at some distant point in the future anywhere from 9 to 20 years, is often a favorite in life coach training. Essentially, the exercise is one in shifting perspective, to playing out the next decade or two, and seeing yourself with the amassed wisdom of those years.
In a life coach training course, the exercise is one that new coaches can easily use, and these next few studies look at the underlying research into mechanisms at work behind the future-self.
Research by Rutchick, Slepian, Reyes, Pleskus, & Hersfield (2018) identifies the mechanisms at work behind the effectiveness of the future-self. In two separate studies, different aspects of the future-self was analyzed. First, the link between the the connectedness one feels to their future-self and their overall health was explored. Second, whether an increased continuity with one’s future self at different future horizons impacted the choices people made in the present.
The study seemingly confirms both a correlation and causality, which is exciting in terms of providing a more solid foundation to the exercise in a life coach training program. It appears that even considering your future self over a span of a few days has a lasting impact over the next few weeks when it comes to making decisions that will have a long-term impact on your health.
- 191 participants. Out of an initial 200 participants, 191 provided useable data. The participants were closely split on gender (52% female) and average age was 32 years old.
- 1st Survey assessing clarity, connectedness, and appreciation for their future self. The scales used were: future self continuity (Ersner-Hershfield et al., 2009), Inclusion of Other in Self (Aron, Aron, & Smollan, 1992) measure, and questions about how much participants liked and cared about their future self. (from 1 not at all to 7 completely).
- 2nd Survey assessed levels of health. Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) Global Health Scale (Cella et al., 2010). The health measurement looks at both physical as well as mental and emotional health.
- Results Showed a Strong Correlation. [I’m not 100% sure how to read these results. Matt, I need your help here to parse out the exact numbers. I’m not sure what b means in stats. ]
Temporal Perspective Intervention Time.
- 535 Total Number of Students in the study. The sample size of the study was relatively large with over 500 students participating.
- The long-term future self group. The researchers asked this group to write a letter to their future self 20 year in the future. These were college students. Their future selves were in their early 40’s.
- The near-term future self group. The other group was asked to write a letter to their future-selves 3 months in the future. Again, being college students, their future-selves were around 20 years 3 months old.
- Measurement of Exercise. The researchers tracked the students and asked them throughout the next three weeks each day if they exercised, and if so, how many minutes did they do.
- The results. It turns out that the students who considered the 20 year future-selves were more likely to exercise and to exercise for longer periods of time. [put in results here]
- 1.43 times more likely to exercise if considered distant self
- Exercised 39.5% longer if considered distant self
- Degree of Connection Important. In life coach training, coaches learn to lead clients through a future self exercise designed to create a clear picture of your future self. The next steps taken in a life coaching session naturally lead into looking at what action can a client take to increase the connection they feel to their future self. Now as life coaches, we have a study that backs up the natural force of the future self exercise to coach to increase the connection between the current and future self.
- Balance between feasibility and desirability. Another aspect of the distant versus far future self is the play between feasibility and desirability. The farther time point a decision or action needs to be taken, the greater degree one focuses on desirability. The closer the timeframe, the higher the focus turns on what’s possible. (Liberman and Trope 1998). At play in this study is the mere consideration of one’s distant future self helps people make decisions in the present moment that have a positive impact on the present, near, and distant selves.
- Hope and Optimism. It appears that believing that you can achieve what you hope to achieve in the distant future plays a role in people taking positive actions. The action steps were extremely clear: making the choice to exercise more often and for longer. And the results over time were also extremely clear: if you exercise, you will live a healthier life. Such clarity and simplicity help the study pinpoint the usefulness of bringing the future self into awareness with a clear action plan.
- Identify Participants. The first step in this study was to identify a number participants for both the correlation and intervention study.
- Provide surveys, provide intervention. The researchers provided the surveys and conducted the intervention, which was writing a letter to one’s near (3 month) or distant (20 year) future self. The participants were also directed to craft journal entries and to consider the closeness and connectedness they felt to their near or distant future self.
- Follow up and track the results. The results were clear and provide another data point for the benefit and usefulness of the future self exercise.
From the standpoint of a life coach training course, the results point to the power of the future self exercise as a stand alone exercise. And they also encourage life coaches in spending more time in looking at the connection a client feels with their future self. At times in coaching sessions, the future self is not necessarily followed up with or tracked over the course of many life coaching sessions. The findings in this study not only point to the benefits of keeping a future self in mind through a coaching session, but also taking the exploration a few steps further in considering one’s connectedness to a distant future self and the decisions being made in the present to be connected to that bright future.
Rutchick, A. M., Slepian, M. L., Reyes, M. O., Pleskus, L. N., & Hershfield, H. E. (2018). The future self-continuity is associated with improved health and increases exercise behavior. American Psychological Association, 24(1), 72-80.
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