Maybe. One problem is that we sometimes don’t recognize the future self as “self” — consider the example of the young person who smokes even though they know the health risks. A stronger connection to our future self can help. That doesn’t necessarily mean “visualizing,” which can actually distract us from doing the day-to-day work that connects us to the future state — it means creating links to the future.

In Oettingen’s work expanding on visualization, that includes actually working out the likely obstacles as preparation to identify the immediate steps we need to take. When we know what we need to do, a calendar can help us plan it. In experiments at the University of Toronto, this link to the future has been strengthened by techniques as simple as giving the full range of dates to a deadline the same color on a calendar.

We are more likely to complete a task whose deadline is in the current month than in a future month, too — perhaps we should make single New Month resolutions throughout the year. This meshes neatly with the Tiny Habits approach and the staged environment-improvement approach of Slim By Design: both these systems ask you to choose small actions or a small number of the actions that look doable right now, and implement those before you move on to next steps.

In pretty much all these scenarios, success is more likely if you think concretely in terms of the steps that will link you to your goal. So go ahead and map out phase 1. A-year-from-now you might be a stranger, but you really can get a touch closer if you start today.


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