Your Future Self w/ Hal Hershfield
Your Future Self w/ Hal Hershfield
Speaker1: [00:00:00] I’ll dive into that because I know you talk about the research of Dan Gilbert, the professor of psychology at Harvard University, and he discusses how ten year look backs or ten year looking forward and how we believe we’ve changed a great deal from our past. But don’t feel that we’re going to change as much in the future. I think you call it the end of history illusion.
Speaker2: [00:00:21] Yeah, it’s a great it’s a really interesting psychological phenomena where we can recognize that we’ve changed from the past to the present. Yeah. But we somehow think that now we’ve kind of arrived at who we are and we will continue to be that person. Now we know that we will change a bit, but we, but we think and this is the way that, you know, Dan Gilbert and his colleagues put it, we think that the rate of progress will slow as the the future moves on. And what’s interesting about that is that it’s not right that, in fact, we are likely to you know, if we’ve changed from the past to present, we’re likely to change from the present to the future.
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Speaker1: [00:01:41] All right, everyone, I am super excited to have our next guest with us today. You know, I’ve talked about him on the show. He is the professor of marketing, behavioral decision making and psychology at UCLA Anderson School of Management. He’s the author of the newly released book Your Future Self. I have a great respect for the work he’s doing. I’m excited to have him with us today. Hal Hershfield, welcome to the show.
Speaker2: [00:02:08] Hey, thanks, Ray. I’m happy to be here.
Speaker1: [00:02:11] Yeah. Hal So we have a number of things we can talk about in the podcast. I have notes here of Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, time traveling, serial killers. Um, you know, before we get into that though, can you just give us our audience a groundwork on what you mean when you talk about a future self and why it’s so important?
Speaker2: [00:02:34] Yeah, sure, Sure thing. Right. So you know your future self, it could be one thing, right? It could be like the future version of you at retirement. But it could also be any self that exists at some point in time down the line. And what I think is really important to consider here is, is the goals that we have, right? So if I am thinking about money and saving, you know, an obvious future self of mine is that self that exists after I’ve stopped earning income. If I’m talking about health and I have a goal of wanting to be able to wrestle around with my kids in five years and not hurt my back. Right. Well, that’s a five year out future self. But the funny thing is that there’s lots of little selves along the way, right? I can’t just think about my self in five years. I also need to think about the exercise that I’m hopefully going to get well tonight or tomorrow or whatever it is and the food I’m going to eat and so on. And so there’s lots of little selves that add up along the way. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:03:33] And so we have a number of those different selves. I kind of want to talk have you talk about this concept of a default network and the mental time traveling we do because we go into the future, into the past. It’s almost like we have a Delorean in our heads and we’re doing that time traveling. So can you kind of talk about this concept of a default network and the mental time traveling?
Speaker2: [00:03:55] I love that idea of a of a Delorean in our heads. That’s fantastic.
Speaker1: [00:03:59] 1.21gw, like 80 miles an hour is like that. Just the emotions we have is like the speed.
Speaker2: [00:04:06] Right? That’s fantastic. It’s also a great band name for what it’s worth, Delorean in our heads. But okay, so. But your question is a great one. So, I mean, let me step back first and talk about, you know, what psychologists call mental time travel, which sounds like a sci fi idea. It’s it’s not the Delorean. It’s basically the idea that in our minds, we can travel back and forth in time. Right? I can. I can easily think about the last time that you and I emailed, and that may make me recall the fact that we lived in a similar neighborhood. Then I can think about that period of time and then I can jump ahead and say, Oh, I wonder where I will live in the future. And on and on and on. And we’re really sophisticated at doing this, this form of mental time travel. And it’s largely supported by what’s known as the default network in the brain, a series of are you.
Speaker1: [00:05:00] An accountant looking to generate more revenue and.
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Speaker2: [00:05:49] Cortical midline structures that that really act in support of our abilities to not only transcend time, but also to think about other people’s minds and other places and and so on. And it’s it’s something that happens that is mental time travel, something that happens. When we’re often just at rest, not doing. Quote unquote, anything. Just.
Speaker1: [00:06:13] Is that where like is that where we come up with maybe some of the our best ideas is in the shower? Yeah. I mean, didn’t Doc Brown hit his head and that’s when he came up with the flux capacitor?
Speaker2: [00:06:24] This is great. We’re going to keep coming back to that. We’re going to go.
Speaker1: [00:06:26] All back to the whole thing will be back. Back to the future.
Speaker2: [00:06:29] Yeah. I mean, I’m to be fair, not an expert in that particular realm of like, you know, where do we come up with our ideas? But some of what’s happening there is the fact that, you know, we sometimes make connections where connections aren’t otherwise seen when we have time to step away from them and sort of let, you know, unconscious thought take over to some extent. But there are a lot of nuance there in that work, and it’s a big can of worms, I think. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:06:57] Well, let’s talk about you talked about the brain, right? I know you did some MRI brain scans in the research and the studies that you did and you used Natalie Portman and Matt Damon in the in the research studies. Can you talk about that? And then this this thing where you zapped the is it the temporal, the temporal parietal temporal parietal junction, which really takes the part that takes in consideration empathy and perspective taking?
Speaker2: [00:07:25] Yeah, sure. So so first things first is, you know, you can start asking yourself, you know, what is the future self look like? And if I can understand something about the future self, I can understand something about the decisions that we make. Now, I and others have had the idea that the future self might almost seem like another person altogether. Right? And one way to test that idea, and I’m sure at some point we can talk about why that’s even important, but one way to test the idea of our future self as another person is to go back to the to the neuroscience and the neuroimaging research. And one of the things we know is that in the brain, we see a different pattern of activity. When I think about me compared to when I think about you or another person and, you know, the original research on this, it would get people to lay down on the scanner and they’d have people think about themselves or they would have them think about George Bush, which is a funny thing. Now, this is to some extent, when that work was being done, George Bush, you know, was was president. This is in the early 2000, not senior. And well, when I started doing my work and this was now about 15 years ago, we said George Bush, they can’t be the right guy. Like it’s too charged. It’s too charged. Exactly right. I mean.
Speaker1: [00:08:46] Would you have Joe Biden as another picture?
Speaker2: [00:08:48] No. You know, you wouldn’t do that, right? Yeah. So we you know, we went around, we we thought we’d get clever about it and we said, let’s just ask people who are the most well known, least controversial figures out there. And our our sample of research participants said Matt Damon and Natalie Portman. And so we said, all right, let’s go with those. Now, you know, the I don’t know, the names might be different now. Right? But it’s you know, you get the gist. Now, in that study, we had people think about either themselves now or themselves in the future or Matt Damon or Natalie Portman now and in the future. And, you know, the big takeaway was that in the brain, that activity that comes about when we think about our future selves looks more like the activity that comes about when we think about another person, Matt Damon and Natalie Portman. And it’s you know, it’s really interesting because it suggests on some deeper level that, you know, that future self might seem like another. Now, you also asked about this, you know, zapping, if you will, now that I should say. That’s not my research, but it’s research I absolutely love. And the researchers use what’s called transcranial transcranial magnetic stimulation, which basically is a zap. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:10:04] Layman’s terms, it’s a zap.
Speaker2: [00:10:06] It’s a zap. And it basically is used to turn off and then reactivate certain parts of the brain. It’s being used right now in an incredibly successful way to treat depression and some addiction as well. Now, what these researchers did is they said there’s one part of the brain, the temporal parietal junction that’s that’s used. It’s it’s it’s engaged. When we try to step into other people’s minds, that sounds really fancy. But when we take someone else’s perspective, yeah, this part of the brain is active. So what these researchers did is they they zapped it. They put it like on ice, if you will. And and what happened was really interesting. People who have that part of their brain turned off relative to other parts of the brain, just like, you know, so the other folks were still getting other parts of the brain turned off. Those folks are, one, scoring lower in perspective taking and empathy, empathy abilities, but they’re also scoring. Lower on their ability to empathize with their future selves. They show more impatient behavior. They’re more likely to choose a reward right now rather than wait for one for later. And so it suggests that if if we need this part of the brain to step into other people’s minds, we may also need it to step into the minds of our future selves who are also sort of like other people. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:11:28] So let’s talk about how we can step into the mind of our future selves. I know you have a different a number of different ways that we can do that. I found fascinating the ability to write a letter to your future self and then have a reply as well. So you can kind of talk about that research.
Speaker2: [00:11:46] Yeah, for sure. So, you know, the, the machinery here is to say, how can we make that future self more vivid? Because if we can make it vivid, I can start to feel something about it. You know, it’s the, the contrast would be, you know, especially in the financial advising space. I think a lot of advisors think showing a compound interest chart is emotional and I think it is to a lot of advisors, financial advisors, but it’s not emotional a lot of people. And so you say, okay, how can we make the future self more emotional? So one strategy I really like is this it’s called a send and reply or a conversational exercise where I’m writing a letter to my future self, but I don’t stop there. I then write a letter back from my future self to my present self and try to imagine what is what is that person saying back to me? What are they thinking about? And the reason I like this is because. It’s not just about me talking to my future self. It’s me also trying to figure out what will he feel? What will the world look like to him? What will he how will he spend his time? And so on and so on.
Speaker2: [00:13:02] You know, there’s another version of this I’ve heard anecdotally some advisers use, which is called the empty chair technique. And this may sound this may sound a little bit too, I don’t know, abstract, but clinicians use this when when you try to help someone work out conflict that they’re having interpersonally. And so the idea is I sit in a chair and there’s an empty chair facing across from me and I have a conversation pretending that the person I’m in conflict with is sitting in that chair, and then I switch seats and talk back to me, you know, from their perspective, Right. They imagine doing that with your future self. Now, I have never done that personally, and I can imagine some advisors, you know, might balk and say it’s too weird or whatever. But you can also see how with the right client and the right setting, it could be the type of thing that could be powerful.
Speaker1: [00:13:53] Yeah. And I listened to one of your other podcasts that you did how and you talked about the AI chatbot that you’re using. And what immediately came to my mind was the new, the new Apple vision goggles and yeah, and going to the metaverse and having a hologram of our future self where we can have a conversation and how effective that would be. So it’s not just writing a letter or picturing it, like going into that metaverse and having someone that you can speak to that you can identify as that, that older future self.
Speaker2: [00:14:31] Yeah, I mean, I would love to do that, that study, right? So we are working on this. This is with some good folks at the MIT Media Lab or, you know, they’ve essentially created this future chatbot where you, you know, go in and it’s I mean, it’s funny because we started working on this, oh, about 8 or 9 months ago. And it feels like the world has changed so much. You know, in the AI space since then that, you know, you’re right. The vision pro with there’s age progressed me talking back to me. I mean wouldn’t that be an amazing, amazing experience and you know talk about making that future self vivid. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:15:08] And let’s talk about like going back to the letter writing. What the other thing that I liked, really liked in the book was the story of the father who had Lou Gehrig’s disease. And he wrote those letters to his son and his kids. Can you talk about that? That letter writing that was done by that father and wasn’t it to help with his kids or it helps with anxiety?
Speaker2: [00:15:33] Yeah, So so Arnie Johansson, he was I mean, this is decades ago diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s. Yeah. Um, I only know about him because I was able to talk to his son, Ryan, who is now chief of police up in northern California, a little city in northern California. And and basically, when his father, Arnie, was diagnosed, he would he he started writing all these letters and he was always a letter writer. And as the disease progressed, he it was one constant. He would continue to write these letters. And Ryan, his son, he didn’t really know what he was writing these letters about. Um, and. You know, the disease progresses, he loses his mobility. He he still writing the letters. He’s dictating them to his nurse. The day he dies. The son, Ryan, you know, amidst all of the grief and everything that goes along with that moment, his mother hands him a letter and the letter is from from his dad, from Ani. And it’s basically a letter, you know. Talking about what he imagines is going to be what he already imagines is going to be a really hard day and how he ani is there for his son Ryan, and not in person, but in spirit and, you know, all the things that he wants to to convey to him.
Speaker2: [00:16:53] But it wasn’t just that one letter he wrote, you know, dozens of these to to the other kids in the family, to to friends, to his wife. And and so Ryan now is older than his father was when his father died. And yet he still has some letters that he hasn’t opened yet and he’s written them on all these, you know, for these different sort of milestone events, first kid, you know, kids, high school graduation and so on and so on. Um, and, I mean, it’s an incredible example of not only thinking about, you know, our own future self, but the future selves of others. Now, I wonder if that had a positive effect not only on the kids, but also of Ani himself while he was writing them. I can’t know this, obviously. Right. But there is some really interesting research suggesting that the act of writing these letters and then doing the reply back can lower anxiety during stressful times because it helps you to essentially step out of the moment and like, you know, see things from a bigger picture perspective.
Speaker1: [00:17:57] Yeah. Um, all right, let’s take away a little bit because I want to kind of go in the nuts and bolts and the stats here. I know you talked about extreme discounting of future rewards and preference reversals, and it’s not just a human thing. You talked about how this even occurs within pigeons. So can you kind of talk about that for our audience and the discount we have when it comes to future rewards?
Speaker2: [00:18:24] Yeah. So there’s a couple of things to think about here. So first off, it’s totally rational to, you know, quote unquote discount future rewards. And I can make a concrete if I’m offering you 100 bucks now or 100 bucks in two weeks, you’re going to take the 100 bucks. Right now, you are discounting the value of the $100 in two weeks because you have more need for it right now. Now, if I said, okay, all right, what about, you know, 100 bucks now or $200 in two weeks? Right. Well, that’s a that’s a really good rate of return, right? You know, you’re going to double your money in two weeks if you still said, you know what, I’d rather have the money right now. That’s an example of what’s known as excessive discounting of future rewards, because you’re doing so in what may be considered an irrational way. Now we can maybe you have a particular need for that money right now. And it’s not irrational. There’s nuance here right now. There’s another interesting instance here. Let’s let’s move all these things and say, hey, what if I gave you the option to have $100 in two weeks or $200 in two weeks in a day? Yeah. I mean, you’d be crazy to say. You know what I prefer? I prefer half as much and I can’t wait that extra day. But now what if I, you know, time passes and now it’s the day before, and I say, Hey. Would you rather have 100 bucks tomorrow or $200 in two days if you said, you know what? Now I want 100 bucks tomorrow. Well, that’s that’s an example of what we call preference reversal. Yeah. And, you know, psychologists call this hyperbolic discounting, but the basic idea here and economists, of course, call it that to the basic idea is that when rewards are pushed out into the future, we may want to act patiently. We say that we will. But then as they get closer, we may show something of a shift.
Speaker1: [00:20:18] Is that because we’re thinking more rationally when it’s out into the future and when it’s close and in nearby, it’s more impulsive and it’s our limbic system activated.
Speaker2: [00:20:32] Well, let’s let’s take it a slightly different way. I mean, I think you can talk about rational or irrational, but another way to think about it is that it’s it’s just a it’s a quote unquote, colder decision when it’s further away and it’s hotter and more emotional when it’s happening right now. So, you know, in a couple of weeks, I’m I don’t care about waiting an extra day that just like that seems silly. But now when it comes to this decision, it feels all of a sudden like. If the decision is taking place right now, it’s happening in the present. I can feel the emotions. It’s harder to, you know, resist temptation now. Okay. To be fair, we don’t normally see these sort of clean preference reversals. Like it would be like almost unimaginable if did that game with you 100 or 200 bucks and I called you in two weeks and you were like, Ah, I’m going to switch. Like, you wouldn’t do that, right? Yeah, well, we see it in more of a general way, like, right. So if you tell me that, you know, tonight, uh, you know, you’re going to, you’re going to eat a salad for dinner and no dessert, and then, well, you know, 7:00 rolls around and you’re, like, exhausted, and you happen to walk by the in and out, in and out. Glencoe, you know, on Glencoe, you may suddenly find yourself not having eaten a salad and instead having a shake and a burger. Now, that’s it’s sort of a version of a preference reversal, but it’s it’s a case, again, where I may have grand plans, but then when the moment comes, as I see a shift, because everything is so much more powerful, it’s happening right there in the moment. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:22:08] And that goes into the impulse control. And I think in the book you state that, you know, it’s the uncertainty of our future which can disrupt our ability to to be patient in the face of of instant gratification. Can you talk about that?
Speaker2: [00:22:27] Sure. I mean, it would be perfectly logical in some ways if I had a completely uncertain future to opt for whatever I could get right now. I mean, this is the classic bird in the hand, right? If I’ve got it. And that’s, you know, that’s better than double the reward, but in an uncertain way. Now, you know, the reality is that that sort of sense of prioritizing certainty that probably made sense from an evolutionary standpoint. You know, when we didn’t didn’t have a certain future and life expectancy was much lower than it is now, I think there’s certainly there’s certainly swaths of society and cultures where the where the future is less certain and it may make more sense to opt for a smaller thing that’s guaranteed right now. But there’s many other cases where we see ourselves acting in a less than optimal way. And it would be almost unfair to say, Well, I did that because the future is uncertain. I, I ate my, you know, double cheeseburger tonight because who knows if I’ll get up tomorrow. Well, you know, that’s like a hard one to to claim. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:23:36] Um, and, you know, the other thing I found interesting was this prefrontal cortex, the lesions. And you had that example of in the 1980s where where the, the, the doctor went to the patient’s house and he had lesions on his prefrontal cortex. And, you know, he just got naked and went to bed. Can you talk can you talk about that story?
Speaker2: [00:24:01] Right. I mean, so, you know, the gist is that these are parts of the brain that support us in exhibiting impulse control. Yeah. And if but it’s a little bit deeper than just impulse control. It’s what they they do is support us in sort of acting in ways that go in accordance with like how we’re supposed to act and not just doing with whatever comes to mind, right? And so in this particular paper, the the doctor who did the research was, you know, did like a case study of a couple of different patients who had lesions in these these prefrontal parts of the brain. And, you know, he documented their behavior. And one of them I mean, this is wild, right? I don’t think this would happen in an academic paper and, you know, 20, 23. But in the 1980s, there’s these pictures of this middle aged man basically stripping down and getting into the doctor’s bed. Basically, the doctor takes the patient back to his apartment and the guy sees his room and he says, oh, bed. The thing to do when you see a bedroom and there’s nothing there’s nothing sort of like nefarious about this. It’s just I saw a bed. I wanted to get into it. So I got undressed and got into it. Now, that would be ridiculous if, you know you or I did that going over to someone’s house, but without the ability to sort of like consider what’s right and what given context and, you know, what’s an impulse versus what’s something I should control, you just end up doing whatever comes to mind. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:25:29] And speaking of right in in context, the story of the Brazilian serial killer. I’m amazed when I heard that there is a cap on jail time because of life expectancy expectancy that allowed a Brazilian serial killer to be released. But the story goes deeper than that. Can you talk about that, that story?
Speaker2: [00:25:53] Yeah, sure. So, you know, Pedro Filho Rodriguez, he was I think he might be Brazil’s sort of most notorious serial killer. Wild. I mean, just wild. If you’ve ever seen the show, Dexter, he was the inspiration for Dexter. So, you know, as far as serial killers go, he you know, he claims to have only killed sort of the bad guys, right? So it was he’s like a.
Speaker1: [00:26:20] Batman, a Brazilian Batman.
Speaker2: [00:26:22] Sort of like, you know, I think he he had a very, very difficult upbringing. And, you know, he killed. Uh, well, it’s, you know, it’s impossible to verify these numbers, but, you know, upwards of 40 people in prison, um, including his own father, who was a sort of a terrible guy. So, anyway, so the reason his story is interesting, I mean, it’s interesting in and of itself, if you’re a true crime fan. But it’s it’s partially interesting because, as you noted, Brazil had this cap on a prison sentence of 35 years. And so he you know, he gets put into he sort of finally gets caught and he gets put in a jail. And I don’t know what the sort of impetus for the cap was, but. As he approaches his, you know, his mid 60s, he’s about to be released and they can’t figure out how to keep him in in prison. So they they end up having to release him and then they they sort of bring him back in for something like minor that they were like, oh, that he caused a riot in jail. So they’re able to add it. But then again, he gets let let go. Now, what’s really interesting here is that at some point along the way. Uh, he sort of has this moment where he says, if. If only I can survive this stint in solitary confinement, I will. I’ll never be violent again. And according to him, that’s exactly what happened. He never killed again. He didn’t even have the impulse. He gets let out and he’s like a completely different person. He’s like, uh, works in the bottling plant. He, you know, he works out all the time. He’s got this, like, inspirational messages. Now, I should note he has a YouTube channel. Yeah, but he, you know, he was just killed.
Speaker1: [00:28:05] Uh, no.
Speaker2: [00:28:06] And, you know, it’s. It’s like a it’s a I. I reached out to him. I was able to track him down and interview him because I thought he was an incredible example of the idea that we can have different selves. Yeah. Along the way. An extreme example. Extreme example. Um, it’s. You know, when you think about his story, the fact that he was killed, presumably the details are hazy, but, you know, clearly seems like it was done by some former, you know, whatever rival or whatnot. Um, even though he may see himself as having had different selves along the way, it’s not clear that others have. Right? Because if they had, they might say, well, that was a different version of him, right? That’s a very basic surface level way to think about it. But it’s a fascinating story of different, fascinating and sad story of different different versions of ourselves, different separate selves along the way. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:29:05] Let’s dive into that, because I know you talk about the research of Dan Gilbert, the professor of psychology at Harvard University, and he discusses how ten year look backs or ten year looking forward and how we believe we’ve changed a great deal from our past, but don’t feel that we’re going to change as much in the future. I think you call it the end of history illusion.
Speaker2: [00:29:26] Yeah, it’s a great it’s a really interesting psychological phenomena where we can recognize that we’ve changed from the past to the present. Yeah. But we somehow think that now we’ve kind of arrived at who we are and we will continue to be that person. Now we know that we will change a bit, but we, but we think and this is the way that, you know, Dan Gilbert and his colleagues put it, we think that the rate of progress will slow as the the future moves on. And what’s interesting about that is that it’s not right that, in fact, we are likely to you know, if we’ve changed from the past to present, we’re likely to change from the present to the future. You know, when he when I talked to him about it, he he said to me, you know, when I was my 20s, I sort of imagined I would change into my 30s, but then I somehow would become me, you know, and and be the person I was going to be. And he said he was 64 when I talked to him. And he said, looking back, I changed more from 54 to 64 than I did from 44 to 54. And I couldn’t have anticipated that. And what’s to me particularly interesting about this particular illusion is that it represents another way that we sometimes can be unfair to our future selves. If I think that I won’t change in some way, I may make plans now that I’ll later regret because I didn’t offer up enough flexibility. And that’s also problematic. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:30:56] Let’s talk about making plans because I know you also referenced, um, Yes, Man, which was the Jim Carrey movie. So can you kind of talk about how we make certain plans we may not make certain plans in regard to our future self?
Speaker2: [00:31:11] Yeah. So, you know, yes, man, it’s funny, you know, that that was a real story by a guy named Daniel Wallace. He’s this he’s this very funny British comedian, uh, who one day decided basically to do that. He basically said, I’m going to say yes to everything. And he writes this book and it turns into a movie. And I ended up talking to him about it. And I mean, it was just a wild it’s a great book, by the way. It’s a wild experience. Um, but, you know, it kind of highlights something funny that that was a funny example of this. But there’s this other instance where I don’t know, Rory, I’m sure this has happened to you. You get asked to do something in a couple of months, right? And you look at your calendar and it’s like more or less wide open. Yeah. And you’re like, Yeah, why not? I’ll do it. And it’s I mean, I’m not saying you get asked to go to a Taylor Swift concert. Maybe that’s not the best, but that feels like the thing everybody wants to do this summer, right?
Speaker1: [00:32:05] Yeah, Everybody’s saying yes to that.
Speaker2: [00:32:07] Everyone’s saying yes to that. I mean, it’s, you know, some work obligation or something that you don’t want to really want to do. You say, Yeah, sure. The weeks tick by. The months go by. You look and you say, Oh, I’ve signed up for this thing I’m supposed to do. And your first thought is, Damn it, I wish I hadn’t said yes. That right. And this is, you know, the psychologists call this the yes damn effect, which is so, so perfect. What’s interesting about it is. We may kind of be mean to our future selves by committing them to doing things that we wouldn’t otherwise do now. There’s there’s again, a lot of nuance here because there are certain things that we probably wouldn’t do if they were happening next week, and it may be beneficial for us to do them because it opens up doors and opportunities and whatnot. And so I think if there’s a piece of advice here, it’s don’t just say yes because the future is wide open, because it’s not going to be when you get there, it’s going to get filled up by all the things that fill up our calendars right now say yes, because the opportunity seems like one that will fit into your sort of bigger purpose and bigger, you know, the things that do drive you and motivate you. But it’s an error. If we commit ourselves to doing something that really doesn’t make sense from a time management perspective. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:33:24] And you actually cited somebody who puts on their calendar things they say no to. So when the when they actually come up, they say no. Yeah, I have my free time or is able to do something else.
Speaker2: [00:33:37] Yeah, yeah. Dilip Soman, he’s a marketing professor up in Toronto and he’ll say, you know, someone asked him to do something. He’ll say no. But then he puts it on his calendar as I turn this down. Framing. Yeah. It’s so great. That’s so great. It’s so great. No. Yeah, yeah.
Speaker1: [00:33:53] Um, all right, let’s talk about per projection bias, because I suffer from it. You know, I go to the grocery store when I’m hungry, and I. I’m getting way more food than I should. People get tattoos of loved ones and then regret it. So can you talk about this projection bias and you know how our emotions and feelings are not really transferring to that future self?
Speaker2: [00:34:14] Yeah. Classic. Both. Both classic examples, right? The the gist here is that in trying to plan for the future, I anchor too heavily on my present day feelings and project them ahead. Now what’s particularly pernicious about this is that I’ve convinced myself that I that I am thinking about the future. I’m like, can’t. I can’t tell myself that I’ve just not thought about it. But in thinking about it, all I’m really doing is saying, what do I feel now and projected ahead? You know what the analogy is? It’s like if you were to get a gift for your, you know, your partner or your best friend or whatever, and rather than say, what would they want, you say, What would I want? And just get that right. It’s like it’s like.
Speaker1: [00:34:55] The golden rule and platinum rule.
Speaker2: [00:34:57] Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That’s exactly right. Um, that’s that’s great framing, you know, so, you know, the grocery store is a great example. The tattoo is a good one. We also do this in other ways. You know, George Loewenstein, who’s one of the economists who’s really done a lot of the original thinking in this space. You know, when I talked to him about it, he said, you know, when I’m depressed, I think that I’ll always be depressed. Right, right. Um, and, and it’s, um, it can be another instance where we’re acting in problematic ways for our to our future selves because we’re just using our present day feelings, right? And so it, you know, it’s, it’s very hard to get around this because we live in the present. We don’t live in the future. Right? But it’s, you know, I love the idea of saying. Doesn’t mean you stop planning, but, you know, plan with some eye toward flexibility, revisit those plans, be fluid in them, update as your values change and your circumstances change and whatnot, because otherwise you get sort of stuck doing the things that, you know, past you said thought was a good idea, right?
Speaker1: [00:36:07] Yeah. I mean, it got me thinking. I read a I read a book called The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Alan Carr. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Alan Carr’s work, but it got me to thinking that, you know, I picked up smoking in my 20s, I did for about a year and I got up to a pack a day haul and like, what am I doing? And so my friends had been smokers in high school and they’d for 12 years they had smoked. And they said, Rory, you got to read this book. The Easy Way to Stop smoking. It’s like magic. Once you’re done, you don’t have the urge to smoke. And I said, Really? So I read the book and by the end of it I identified as a non-smoker. And I really didn’t have a choice. Like, I don’t go in thinking like, Oh, I have an option to smoke. So I had a question. It seems like a lot of this stuff you’re negotiating with that future self, but are there like, are there ways that we can I mean, if you identify as a non-smoker or you don’t give yourself a choice like I don’t eat meat, right? Is there ways to set up the guardrails or principles for us to make better decisions? Because it seems like this negotiating can be tough if we have a lot of optionality?
Speaker2: [00:37:19] Well, it’s it’s the negotiating is really tough, especially because our future selves have no voice at the at the table. Right. Um, but I love what you’re talking about because you’re really talking about what psychologists call identity salience. You know, if you make something core to your identity, belief, core belief, I am a non-smoker is different than I don’t smoke. Right. Uh, um, you know, Chris, Brian, one of my very good friends from grad school, has some wonderful research on this, by the way. You know, you get kids, uh, you know, to, you know, to help get kids to to clean up or whatever. He said, you’re a helper rather than are you helping. And you know that making it salient to the identity. You’re not a cheater. You know, these sorts of things, it really matters. Um, now, I mean, you bring up sort of an offshoot of this, which is. Are there ways to make this part of our know the guardrails, if you will? Right. And so, you know, kind of recognize that I want to act in certain ways. My future self is going to want to look back at me having done good. And then the present moment comes and there’s a my buddies over with a pack of cigarettes, and now all of a sudden I want to smoke. So. So how do you sort of get around that? You know, I’ve and I dig into it in the book love the ideas of commitment devices. And these are essentially guardrails that we put on our future behavior to make sure that we don’t do the thing that we don’t want to do.
Speaker2: [00:38:45] And, you know, you mentioned sort of removing the option entirely right now. In some ways that’s easier said than done, right? You know, I don’t want to snack, but I live in a house with my wife and kids and they have snacks, you know. Well, damn, that’s there right now. There are ways around this. Um, on a very practical level, one of the products that I really like is called the safe. Um, and this is basically, uh, a guy, there’s this guy, Dave Krippendorf, when he was in he was a grad student at MIT, actually, he lived across the street from a Whole Foods. And, um, he kept snacking when he was trying to do a problem set that he, you know, he had, you know, he had an issue with. So he said, I got, I got to do something with all these snacks and he, he invented a little safe with like a, like a little box with a digital, you know, lock on it essentially. And you can set it for a minute to ten days. You know, he called this the kitchen safe. And he was you know, he basically got a high paying straight out of MIT business school job and then goes on Shark Tank and this thing like blows up and all sorts of people start buying it and he quits his job and starts doing this. Now, here’s the funny thing. He called it the kitchen safe because it was meant for snacks.
Speaker2: [00:40:08] Yeah. And he finds people using it for all sorts of things like alcohol or drugs, and he renames it the safe. Now, I got one. He sent me one. Okay. And, you know, you mentioned taking an option off the table. So the thing for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this is my phone. Right. And I got little kids at home and I know I’m setting a bad model for them. They don’t have a phone yet, but I know I’m doing a bad job. And also, you know, it’s like we have dinner and, um. Okay, I’ll put the. I’ll put the phone in the kitchen. Yeah. You know, and oh, now it’s away. And then I walk into the kitchen to get them seconds or whatever and it’s like right there. So you know, look at it. Oh what, what Did anything happen on Twitter in the last 17 minutes? As if that’s important. Rory Right. And so you know, and so I. I. Now, don’t. Don’t do it every night. I really should. But I pop my phone in the case. If I pop it, I put it on the lock for an hour and a half. It’s amazing because what it does is take the temptation away entirely. It’s not even tempting to me to want to go look at my phone because I know I can’t. You know, you can’t have it. And it’s it’s a it’s a wild it’s a wild psychological experience to just know it’s off the table.
Speaker1: [00:41:26] Yeah. I mean, well, I was doing is I was actually removing Instagram off my phone for the week and then on the weekend I would read download the app as a way or set up those guardrails. And so the other question I want to talk about algorithms here, because I know you talked about the crowdsourcing or was it the neighborly advice and how we. Yeah, we think we we we give more value to how we’re going to predict the future, um, in relation to maybe others surrounding us. And I found that fascinating because obviously these tools, these digital devices are very powerful, right? These algorithms are powerful. Um, so can you talk about that out and then ways maybe we can help program these algorithms to help us make better choices. I think how that these tech companies should give us the ability to review our algorithm and make adjustments to it.
Speaker2: [00:42:23] Yeah. So the work that you’re talking about basically suggests that if I’m trying, let’s just imagine that I’m trying to make a decision, a big decision. Uh. Who to date or, you know, what career path I should have, you know. But there’s other ones, right? Like what? Vacation I should go on if I’m so lucky. These sorts of things. Now, there’s a couple of different ways that I could think about these things I could simulate. The future experience of dating so and so person or taking whatever career or going to, you know, whichever vacation spot it is. Or I could ask people who’ve gone through it now, it’s a little weird to think about asking, you know, a potential mates, exes, you know, should I date this person? Right. But, uh, but what researchers did and this is in fact another study led by Dan Gilbert, um. They set up a speed dating study where essentially people got the option to go. Know, women got the option to go on a date with this one man. They could either simulate what they thought the date would be like based on his sort of dating profile, or they would get information from someone who already went on a date with him. Call it the the surrogate. Now, what’s amazing about this is now you’ve perfectly and cleanly pitted simulation versus segregation.
Speaker2: [00:43:48] And now everybody thinks what’s going to be the better predictor of how much I enjoy that date. My own simulation. I know me, right? Turns out the better predictor is the other person’s dating report. And this is this is to some extent, I think this is a tough pill to swallow because we think we are these unique know, you know, unique creatures. No one’s like us. How could someone else know my preferences? And the reality is there’s some wisdom in the averages. There’s some wisdom in other people’s lived experiences before us. And now you bring up algorithms. There’s other research done by Porus Khambata. He was a postdoc here at UCLA, and he’s found that algorithms often are better predictors of how much you will enjoy a certain article than your own predictions or simulations about how much you would enjoy that article. And again, it boils down to this. Well, it’s basically taking information about a lot of people who might be like you. So you ask, how can we use this for our advantage? The first step is to, you know, frame it so that people understand that some of these predictions are actually pretty useful and they may be better even than any of the predictions we can make ourselves about whatever the thing might be. Right?
Speaker1: [00:45:05] So funny. I mean, those tech companies have so much data on us. I mean, they have those social profiles. They know, Yeah, the decision we’re going to make next, which is frightening. It’s true. I mean.
Speaker2: [00:45:16] But you can think about it, you know, it’s not just, you know, what should I order from Uber Eats tonight, but like, you know, if it can’t like, imagine the power of something like at what age should I retire or, you know, what should my retirement life look like? There’s data out there from other people who have gone through these decisions who may be like me, you know, and we’re going to get increasingly and increasingly more of that. That would be really a fascinating use case.
Speaker1: [00:45:41] Yeah. And you talked about like a career or where would you go to school? I found it interesting because I suffer from this. I was horrible at getting up for high school in the mornings. And you talked about how college majors were less likely to be pursued if they were given a class early in the morning.
Speaker2: [00:46:04] Right, right, right. Because. If I am taking a required class and it’s at 8 a.m., which is for most adults, not that early, but you know, of course, the college kid, that’s that’s essentially like, you know, 4 a.m. um, I miss a tribute. My feelings of being exhausted toward the subject matter and not correctly toward the fact that I just am tired and so I’m less likely to major in that topic or that that subject because I think, oh, it’s a boring subject. It may not actually be. It’s just that I’ve misattributed my feelings. And so it’s like another instance to go back to the it’s a, you know, it’s a flavor. It’s not exactly the same. It’s a flavor of projection bias where I’m sort of using the feelings I’m having in the moment and saying, Well, that must be what I really feel. And so therefore I, I won’t major in that thing. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:46:56] All right, Let’s we talked about time traveling to start off the show. I love your talk about our concept of time and I know you talked about Einstein and Charlie Chaplin’s wife and a hot stove. Can you share that with our audience then? That Yale study I found fascinating on how we taking a piece of paper maybe have our audience pause and they can do this while listening? Yeah, sure. Like, you know how how we look at three months, a year and three years.
Speaker2: [00:47:24] Yeah, sure. So. So. Right. So first Einstein, right? So, you know, he is, uh, he had this, this line, right? So, um, what was it? Spending? You know, spend an hour with a this is a long time ago, right? So he said, spend an hour with a pretty woman. It’ll feel like a minute. Spend a minute, you know, sitting on a hot stove. It’ll feel like an hour. Yeah. And so I read that he actually tests this, right? And so he has Charlie Chaplin’s a friend of his. Charlie Chaplin is married to this beautiful actress. He asked both of them, you know, can I spend can I spend an hour with her? And he does. And he after, you know, what he feels like has been a minute, you know, he clicks. And of course, it’s been roughly more like, you know, closer to an hour. And then that is the story goes. He ends up in the hospital with a burn to his left ass cheek that day from sitting on the Hudson. Now, you know, I read this article and only years later did I like re you know, return to it and realize that the whole thing was satire. This didn’t happen. But it was you know it it might as well and you know it’s a really funny it’s a great the reason I love it it’s funny but it’s also even if it’s not true, it makes a point about the subjective nature of of time and how it’s, you know, the experience of it is all, you know, quote unquote relative, you know? So there’s this wonderful research done by Zilberman at Yale where basically he asked people to to to subjectively report how long. Well, you can try this, right? So you say, all right.
Speaker2: [00:49:03] Write down on a piece of paper, just using two lines, make one line, and then I want you to say how long? Does a day feel? How long does it feel like it’ll be between now and tomorrow? Just write a line, another line on the paper that represents that that distance and time. I mean, that’s a little abstract. Yeah. All right. Now. Let’s go ahead and say. Three months from now, I want you to think about that day and then think about the distance between. Three months from now and three months and a day from now. And draw that if you’re like most people. That one day gap when it’s three months out, feels subjectively shorter than the same 24 hour one day gap between now and tomorrow. And what’s wild about that is it’s still the same amount of time. But here’s why I think this is so fascinating, because when it comes to patience and when it comes to making decisions between now and later, you know, we started by talking about hyperbolic discounting and how our preferences might change. Well, if I’m making a choice that’s going to happen in three, four months and it involves me waiting a day or two, that feels like the blink of an eye. It feels really easy to exhibit patience in the future, but when it comes to right now, now all of a sudden that span of time, that gap, it feels long, it feels subjectively longer, and it may make it harder to to wait and to act patiently because, oh, God, I’d rather just get the thing now than wait all that time until tomorrow or two days from now or whatever it is. Yeah. Yeah.
Speaker1: [00:50:45] So, I mean, it just seems like this constant struggle between our current selves and our future selves and. And I was driving to work in the morning and and I thought about that, and we talked about earlier potentially using VR to talk to our future selves. And you talked about the interview where you have the empty chair. You know, I’m a very visual learner, so I think. Do we want to? Maybe. Picture a conceptualize having conversations with multiple versions of our future self to help us make better decisions. What what we value most. Um, you know, just I’m trying to conceptualize how we can, how we can do that.
Speaker2: [00:51:35] Yeah, I think it’s a great. I think it’s a really worthwhile endeavor, right? Because part of what we are talking about here is trying to enrich and enrich in the conversation between our current and future selves. Now, you know, I think we should be careful, right? I think if we try to do this too often or, you know, I’m I’m constantly having a chat with my future self.
Speaker1: [00:51:57] In my head, I’m like every decision. Yeah.
Speaker2: [00:51:59] It feels like now all of a sudden I’ve just gone, you know, full, full blown neurotic. Right. Um, but I love the idea of sort of deepening that conversation, especially around moments. Of big decisions or decisions that have implications now and later. Now, look, you could argue that my dinner decision tonight is one of those, but if I’m constantly having this conversation with every meal I’m going to have, I think that’s going to I think that’s going to wear off really quickly. Right. But, you know, if it’s about eating well, what if I have this sort of conversation when I’m making a bigger plan about how I’m going to approach my diet, you know, or whether I’m going to hire a nutritionist, it’s about finances. When I’m having this conversation about what’s my portfolio allocation and how am I, you know, when am I going to retire and how am I going to spend down my assets and all? Look, that’s just three. There’s like a million decisions that are involved here, right? Those are the types of things that I think could benefit from these deeper conversations between current and future selves over time.
Speaker1: [00:53:03] I like it. I like it. All right. Well, we can wrap up here. This has been great. How? Actually, you know what? Let me ask you this. Do you want to share anything with our audience that we haven’t touched upon?
Speaker2: [00:53:13] Yeah. Okay. I’ll share one thing. Um, you can go too far. Uh, you know, when I started doing this work, I was, like, all focused on people who are making these, you know, quote, unquote, myopic decisions where they have tunnel vision and they just prioritize now over later. And I really thought, you know, the answer to so many of our problems is to expand the the the scope and think about later rather than now. And I realized and other researchers suggested this, that you can also go too far and just think about the future and you know if that sounds. Oh, no, you know, no, nobody does that. I mean, if you’ve ever had a gift card that you were holding, you know, a gift certificate to a restaurant, you’re holding on to it for the perfect moment and then the restaurant closes. Yeah, that’s a version of thinking too much about the future and not just doing the thing. And what’s funny about that is it’s another instance of kind of screwing over our future selves, because now if I’m so future oriented that I neglect the present, I’m not going to have any the experiences and memories, you know, or I’m going to have impoverished ones to look back upon. And so I think to some extent, um, you know, and, and I, and I think this is, uh, something that Paul Fenner, who’s a financial advisor, mentioned to me. It’s not about balance, but it’s about harmony between present and future selves. You know, making sure that they both are, all of them can have some sort of voice at the negotiation table.
Speaker1: [00:54:42] Yeah, I love it. I agree. Rich. Meaningful experiences. You want to do that, but you want to sacrifice too much and only have those rich, meaningful experiences. But you know, on your deathbed, I always say you look back and, you know, those memories and those interactions with with the people, your family and friends. My book on writing. I talk about advise readers or advise raw or it’s a return on relationship. So it’s those deep, meaningful relationships that win out over time. 100% agree. I love it. All right, Hal, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. If people want to get your book, you know, what’s the best way to do so?
Speaker2: [00:55:17] Yeah, sure. Yeah. Your future self, How to Make Tomorrow Better. Today you can go to my website Hal hershfield.com. It’s got all of the links but it’s available anywhere books are sold love it.
Speaker1: [00:55:28] All righty Hal Appreciate it.
Speaker2: [00:55:29] Thanks, Rory.
Speaker3: [00:55:30] All opinions expressed by Rob Santos and Rory Henry on this website podcast interview are solely their opinions and do not reflect the opinions of our Arrowroot Family Office LLC, or their parent company or affiliates and may have been disseminated on television, radio, Internet or another medium. You should not treat any opinion expressed by anyone as a specific endorsement to particular investment or follow a particular strategy, but only as an expression of their opinions. Past performance is not indicative of future results.