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Using Versions of "Future You" as a Guide

overlap of your current self and your ideal self

❝The problem with the future is that it keeps turning into the present.❞ -"Hobbes" in Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

I often think about the concept of "future you." The idea is that just like you today can think about different versions of you in the past, you can also connect with yourself in the future. Sometimes it's helpful to have conversations with future you to think in a way that guides your actions towards helping future you out.

In his book On Second Thought, Motivational Interviewing founder William Miller describes various versions of future you. These versions represent possible selves you might become, depending on what you do in the present. They can motivate you in a couple of ways. They can motivate you to run toward something, like your dream self and your ideal self. Or, they can motivate you to run away from something you don't want, like your nightmare self.

By thinking about various futures that you either do or don't want, you can guide your decisions today in a way that future you would be happy with.

your past doesn't need you, your future does


One possible you can become is your dream self. Your dream self is the person you fantasize about becoming one day. This doesn't have to be based in reality or be a goal. Still, your dream self contains clues about the kind of person you want to be. You might think about what you would do, for example, if you won the lottery or otherwise came into substantial money. You might think about what you would do if you lived on an island or were isolated in the woods. You might never attain your dream future self, but it still can provide information about which direction you would like to go.

your dream self


The opposite of your dream self might be thought of as your nightmare self. This is the version of future you that you are afraid of becoming. If you have a bad habit, say, then your nightmare future self might be whom you will become if you don't change your behavior. For some people, their nightmare self will be some version of failure, poverty, rejection, or homelessness. Your nightmare self can motivate you by keeping you aware of whom you might become if you don't change.

your nightmare self

By keeping in mind your nightmare future self, you will be motivated to do what you need to do to escape that path. You won't become your nightmare future self overnight, but you might notice a gradual change if you don't address what needs to be addressed.

don't become your nightmare self

The Meaning in Life Questionnaire assesses two dimensions of meaning in life, the presence of and search for meaning. Presence measures how full you feel your life is of meaning. Search measures how engaged and motivated you are in efforts to find meaning in your life.


In contrast to your dream self which is most likely not a realistic future version of you, your ideal self represents the person who you are at your core. This is who you strive to be. There is a direct connection between your ideal self, your personal values, your sources of meaning, your purpose in life, and your financial purpose. Whereas your nightmare self was chasing you and represents something you are running away from, your ideal self represents something you are running towards, thus motivating you on both sides.

your ideal self

Viewed in this way, your ideal self can become your beacon. You can use your ideal self as a guide to help you make tough decisions.

your ideal self as a guide


When you think about your ideal self, it's important to think about this through the lens of things you can control. For example, your future ideal self is not a multimillionaire movie star (except for the very rare cases where that's actually in the realm of possibility). Your ideal self represents the kind of person you would be regardless of what's happening in your environment. External factors should not influence your ideal self.

If you think about who you are today and your future ideal self, and it feels like there needs to be more overlap, ask yourself what's keeping you stuck. What can you do to take one step in the right direction?

little overlap between current self and ideal self

As you move closer to your ideal self, you will live more authentically. You are living a life you would be happy to look back on without regret. This prevents you from trying to keep up with the Joneses or doing things just because you think you're supposed to do them.

So try to understand whom you want to be, and start to align your behavior with that person.

authenticity is the overlap between current self and ideal self

Keeping future you in mind can be helpful to strike a balance between living for today while allowing future versions of you to also live for their moment. We can lean more into the future you concept and define different versions of future you that you may become. These different versions of future you can help you orient your life.

Who do you want to become?

You get one life; live intentionally.


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Related Meaningful Money Reading
References and Influences

Ariely, Dan & Jeff Kreisler: Dollars and Sense

Barker, Dan: Life Driven Purpose

Ben-Shahar, Tal: Choose the Life You Want

Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks

Burkeman, Oliver: The Antidote

Emmons, Robert: THANKS!

Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis

Hanh, Thich Nhat: You Are Here

Hanson, Rick & Richard Mendius: Buddha’s Brain

Harris, Sam: Waking Up

Kahneman: Daniel: Thinking Fast and Slow

Kinder, George & Susan Galvan: Lighting the Torch

Kinder, George & Mary Rowland: Life Planning for You

Lindsay, James: Life in Light of Death

Manson, Mark: Everything is Fucked

McKay, Matthew, John Forsyth, and Georg Eifert: Your Life on Purpose

Miller, William: On Second Thought

Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatte: The Resilience Factor

Wallace, David Foster: This is Water

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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