Time Travel For Fun and Profit

Sorry, this is not about "time travel" in the technologically sexy sense, telling you how to dial up a year and be physically transported there right this minute.

Nah, this is the more boring kind: psychological time travel.  This just allows you to use your imagination to communicate with your future self, potentially allowing you to optimize, or at least not totally screw up, your coming years.

However, there are, even now, some virtual "time machines" out there that actually facilitate this process, if you care to go all Marty McFly and try to tinker with the fourth dimension.

Wait, this movie came out nearly 30 years ago?
Clearly someone must have messed with the space/time continuum. 

NeuroEconomic Research Says: Use Your Imagination

Recent neuroeconomic studies suggest that if you are easily able to imagine your future self, and feel all warm and fuzzy about that self, you will be way more likely to make sensible decisions in the present.

Whereas if you're all distant and "whatever, dude," you are more likely to be spending your way into debt, screwing up your health, and paving the way for a grimmer future.  Which is fine if you're not worried about some hypothetical old fart spending his or her golden years in a refrigerator box by the railroad tracks, dumpster diving for Twinkies and Thunderbird.

Hal Hershfield, an NYU professor, found that the more subjects are able to imagine themselves in the future, the better they are at saving for retirement today.  He calls this “self-continuity.” In order to encourage planning for the future, he uses computer simulations to show people versions of themselves 20 or 30 years down the road.

So the good news is: the more bonded with your "future self" you are, the less likely you will make dumbass live-for-the-moment decisions that could bite you in the butt later.

Sometimes Current Self Can't Resist Being an Asshole

And another clever neuroeconomist, Joe Kable from the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that there's high correlation between "imagination" brain activity and skill at discounting: the ability to refuse a smaller current reward and hold out for a larger delayed reward.  Turns out, "the richness or vividness of the scene" can make a big difference. According to Kable, people who rock the future imagination thing and choose delayed rewards "are less likely to use drugs. They are likely to be lower weight, and make better diet choices...and have other positive health outcomes. They don't smoke," he said. "There is an association with school performance...even things like they are less likely to get divorced, even less likely to be under water on their mortgage."

While some of this futuristic thinking ability may be genetic, the neuroeconomic geeks say you can get way better at it if you make an effort at it.  They suggest picturing how your future self will feel before making a big purchase now, exposing yourself to a visual simulation of your future face, or writing a letter from your future self to your present self or vice versa.

Low Tech Time Machines

Photo Aging

There are apparently phone free apps and PC software out there that will take your current picture and age it for you so you can get to know your future self and start chatting her up. (Just hope she's not gonna go on and on about her bowel habits or whine about how kids today have it way too easy and don't understand the importance of self-discipline and hard work).

However, the first few links I randomly clicked on for my PC were no longer free, darn it, and I didn't feel like hunting down my reading glasses to go install a phone app.  Apparently I must not give much of a crap about poor future Crabby!

Or wait, actually I'm pretty sure I do care about my future self.  I'm just not all that motivated to see how wrinkled and droopy and saggy she's gonna look.  I think I can like her just fine and care pretty deeply about her fate without going there. But thanks!

However, if you guys are more intrepid, it looks like there's an app called photobooth, and you could probably google up some more.

Future Email

This is not so much for super long-term future thinking, 'cause who knows if we'll even use email in a few decades or just beam our thoughts directly to others without pesky keyboards or garbled voice recognition?

(Oh, but speaking of voice recognition, a quick digression:  My Droid is generally pretty good at it, but the other day I was trying to find out some nutritional info on shiitake mushrooms, and over and over again it kept giving me search results for "shit-talking mushrooms." Which wasn't all that helpful for calorie counting. But it was at least nice to know that there are fungi as foul mouthed as I am!)

Anyway.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, future email!

This is a great tool for initiating new habits and lifestyle changes, because you can take that initial "fired up" energy you have at the beginning of a new quest and send it some of it down the road for later.

(Unless you are the sort of person who never ever starts off with a goal and then starts to slip and slide and slack and stumble. In which case, how the heck did you ever end up here at Cranky Fitness?)

For example, lets say you are trying to start doing some stress management or get more exercise or are trying to eat more healthy stuff and stop snorfing up so many cookies and chips.

On Day 1, you may have many helpful thoughts and ideas and positive visualizations! You may feel totally connected to the shiny picture of ultimate success, or, equally effective, quite panicked about the dire consequences of continuing to blow off change and screw over your future self.

But will you feel the same way on Day 8? On Day 37? On Day 283? On day 622?

A future email program lets you customize messages to yourself, composing them when you're inspired, and delivering them later, perhaps in a recurring fashion.

You might, for example, have a goal of eventually producing 30 different messages that target different motivational strategies, and have them recur monthly, so that every day you get an email from your past self reminding you of why this change is important, why you shouldn't give up if you are feeling discouraged, etc. You can tweak and change and add and subtract over time, as you discover that some supposedly "motivational" messages just make you want to sob, and others are so awesome you want to create 47 new variations. Whatever.

Note:  I am currently experimenting with this myself, but am still in the "yay I'm mostly on track!" phase. So stay tuned for when the inevitable "crap, this is a pain in the ass" phase arrives.  Will these messages from current me help gear supply extra motivation, or will it just convince me that I was being a sappy over-optimistic dork?  Time will tell!

Alas, most email programs like gmail don't have this built in, you gotta go scrounge up another program, but there are a number of free ones out there. (Though if you want to send a lot of 'em or get fancy, you start having to pay.)

I'm trying out the free version of Letter Me Later, which has some annoyances in the user interface, but lets you send quite a bit for free.  It's very picky about the order you do things in--for example, if you want to set up a recurring email and you forget to select "recurring" before you choose the start and end dates, it will erase all the dates and make you start over.  There are about 5 other dumb user interface issues that make it frustrating the first few times, but even the technology-challenged Crab eventually figured it out eventually.

So, does anyone care much about what you might be up to a week, month, year, or a few decades from now? Or do you prefer to live more for the moment?

Opera Night and "Fair Use" Please-Don't-Sue-Me-Movie Poster: wikipedia; Bitey cat: Malingering; "As Is" Time Machine: Alexander

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