If you could chat to your future self, what would you say? What would your future self say to you? If you’re like many Americans at risk of coming up short in retirement savings, it would probably be something like:

“Get your sh*t together!”.

According to studies, humans have a hard time empathizing with our future selves. It’s like picturing a stranger, which explains why some people tend to favor short-term gratification (i.e. spending) over long-term savings.

The same researchers decided to explore this idea further. They created two scenarios: one where people were shown an image of themselves, digitally altered to make them look much older (as above); the other where people were simply shown a virtual version of their current selves.

Later, participants were asked a number of questions on finance and retirement. Those who had interacted with their future selves were more willing to increase their long-term savings, than those who had not.

It’s a fascinating example of how money management is inherently psychological.

The critical take-away from this study is that we need to start focusing more on long-term thinking. It’s important, however, to create an emotional connection to your future self.

Take time to picture the life you want to live in 5 years, 10 years, and 40 years. Visualize the things you enjoy doing now, and think of retirement savings as a way to continue doing those things (and more). Betterment provides goal based investing, which helps to make saving more meaningful (and easier all round).