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Summary: Your Future Self: How to Make Tomorrow Better Today by Hal Hershfield

Your Future Self (2023) is an illuminating journey through the complex world of decision-making, blending the powerful elements of psychology and economics. Offering a unique lens with which to view our long-term choices, it uncovers how the decisions we make today directly shape our future selves.

Introduction: Unlock the key to better decision-making, heightened motivation, and a healthier relationship with the person you’ll become.

Picture this: You’re having coffee with a stranger. This individual knows everything about you – all your little habits, every decision you’ve ever made, the paths you’ve taken, and even your deepest secrets. You, however, know nothing about this stranger. Who is this person? Well, it’s you – just ten years in the future.

Now, how would this meeting affect your actions today? Would you think twice before downing that extra piece of cake, knowing the impact it might have on your future health? Would you reconsider that impulse buy, understanding the financial strain it may put on your future self?

Our lives are a ceaseless evolution, each day propelling us into the future – a future inhabited by a version of us that can feel alien and detached from our present selves. This divergence often results in decisions that may gratify our current selves, but leave our future selves reeling. Yet, we persist, driven by an innate focus on immediate satisfaction, largely ignoring the looming shadows of the future.

But what if we could bridge this temporal chasm? What if we could cultivate an empathetic bond with our future selves, shaping our decisions today to ensure a more prosperous tomorrow? In this summary you will embark on a riveting exploration into the depths of self-perception, identity, and the fascinating interplay between our present and future selves. This journey will offer insights into the human psyche, while empowering you to harness the connection with your future self – thereby fostering decisions that favor not only the you of today, but also the you of tomorrow.

Can we transform our core selves?

Take a moment to reflect on the tale of Pedro Rodrigues Filho, a man born into brutality, bearing a dented skull from his father’s beatings. Rodrigues Filho, who died in 2023, was a serial killer who had murdered 71 people by 1985. Yet his story didn’t end in a prison cell. He started working out, learned to read and write, and in 2007, thanks to a legal loophole, walked out of prison a free man. He began waking up at 4 a.m. daily, abstained from drugs and alcohol, shared inspirational stories on YouTube, and counseled young criminals, swearing that he was repulsed by his former self and considering himself reborn. It compels us to ask: Can we fundamentally change who we are?

Think about your sense of self. Imagine that every cell in your body was replaced over time, but you retained your memories. Would you still be you? What if your mind and memories were replaced by someone else’s? How many parts of you need to change before you’re considered a new entity?

Reflect on your own life. Surely, certain traits have persisted since you were a child. However, your experiences have also shaped you, your body has transformed, and even your memories have evolved.

Philosophy alone can’t solve this riddle. The everyday world, as seen in a study by Professor Nina Strohminger, provides a different lens. She asked caregivers of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and ALS whether the people they were caring for still felt the same to them. Interestingly, despite their failing bodies, the ALS patients, with their intact minds, were seen as more “themselves” than the Alzheimer’s patients, whose memories were fading. But the real twist came when Strohminger spoke to caregivers of people with frontotemporal dementia, a condition that leaves the body and memories intact but impairs the ability to act morally or ethically. These patients were perceived as the most alien, suggesting that our moral selves could indeed define our true identity.

So, reflecting on Pedro Rodrigues Filho, did he indeed become a new person? If we consider the concept of an essential moral self, then perhaps he did. But now, let’s redirect that spotlight onto ourselves. How do we view our future selves? Will we remain the same or transform into someone new? As we delve further, we’ll explore this fascinating aspect of our human existence.

Befriending your future self

Imagine immortality – forever young and unfettered, like a vampire basking in the moonlight. Intriguing, isn’t it? Yet it throws up an existential quandary. How could we be sure of who we’d be in the face of such endless existence? Just like bringing a new life into the world, every moment births a new version of “us.” Our future selves, then, will forever remain enigmatic, shadowy figures in the hazy landscape of tomorrow.

Our perception of our future selves profoundly influences our current decisions. Imagine two personas – an extension of your present self and a brand-new individual. How you perceive your future self in this dichotomy will invariably color the way you act today.

Consider this – we typically act in our own self-interest. However, if we perceive our future selves as strangers, we might be less inclined to commit to healthy, helpful habits. Why say no to an extra slice of chocolate cake if it’s not your waistline that’ll bear the brunt, but rather that of a stranger? This detachment might also lead to indulgent spending or an inclination toward long-term debt.

When reflecting on the near future – say, your next birthday – most people are likely to use first-person pronouns, maintaining a sense of personal continuity. But when the event is 30 years away, the language shifts to the third person. One might attribute this to perception. Think of seeing two birds at a distance. Telling them apart might be challenging. Similarly, whether it’s “you” a decade from now or “you” in two decades, these future selves might seem to coalesce into one nebulous figure.

Our future self is blurry, almost ghostlike, while our present self is solid, tangible. Although our future self is not literally a different person, thinking in this manner can provide insights. Sacrifices for a stranger may seem illogical, but what if you began to see your future self as a friend or loved one?

Perhaps it’s time to shift perspectives. Instead of treating your future self as a distant figure, bring them closer. Consider them an ally, a friend, someone worth making sacrifices for. Maybe then, the “you” of tomorrow would seem less like a stranger and more like a loved one for whom you’d readily forgo that extra slice of cake, or reconsider rash financial decisions. After all, even if you could live forever, like a vampire in the twilight, wouldn’t you want the best for all your future selves?

Navigating choices for your future self

Imagine the metaphor of a ship, anchored steadfastly to a specific spot. Despite the beckoning horizon and the call of the open sea, it remains tethered to its mooring. In a way, we are all like that ship. We’re bound by the concept of “anchoring” to our current selves and values, even when we know we should loosen the chains and sail into the future.

This metaphorical anchoring often leads us to make choices that are detrimental to our future selves. Presented with a choice between receiving $1000 in six months or $990 right now, most people would choose the immediate payout. But where is the tipping point? What amount of money would make waiting worth it?

This tendency to prioritize immediate rewards over future benefits can lead to problematic decisions, like sudden millionaires squandering their fortune. However, this picture changes when we remove the immediacy of the present. When asked to choose between $900 in a year or $1000 in eighteen months, most people display more patience and choose the larger sum.

This phenomenon is not limited to financial decisions. If asked to choose between a chocolate bar and a handful of healthy nuts to be received in a week’s time, many would opt for the healthier option. The allure of instant gratification wanes when the reward isn’t immediate. Is this because we find the future uncertain, sticking to the old adage of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush?

The pull of the present is powerful because we are familiar with it. It’s magnified in our perception, and time seems to compress as we look farther into the future. A day in the present feels longer than the anticipation of a day spent on a task six months from now.

Just as a caterpillar slowly morphs into a butterfly, we often overlook how the individual moments of our present accumulate to create our future. If we don’t actively focus on our future selves, we risk making decisions in the present that could lead to future regret. So perhaps it’s time to weigh anchor and let our future selves guide us as we navigate the sea of choices that life presents.

Procrastination, decisions, and the journey to no regrets

Have you ever found yourself rushing to meet a deadline – like Mozart, who supposedly completed Don Giovanni at the last moment? Maybe you’ve crammed the night before a big exam. Procrastination is a common habit we all share. But what we often don’t realize is that we’re hurting our future selves by leaving tasks until the last minute. The root cause of this issue? We struggle to imagine our future selves vividly. Our inability to foresee the future clearly results in a lack of understanding about the burdens we’re leaving for our future selves to bear.

But there’s hope! A little forgiveness can go a long way. Forgive your past self for leaving tasks undone, and work on developing a better understanding of your future self to avoid procrastination. In doing so, you’ll not only lessen the burden on your future self, but also foster a stronger connection among your past, present, and future selves.

Similarly, have you ever agreed to something scheduled for a future time, only to regret it when that time came? That’s the yes/damn effect. Perhaps you’ve experienced this when you’ve RSVP’d to a party that you later dreaded attending. The yes/damn effect is a reflection of our difficulty in predicting our future emotional states – a phenomenon that’s also at play when we make decisions that lead to regret.

The same goes for regret over getting a tattoo. The significance behind a tattoo may fade over time. Or a hasty decision made while one is impaired may lead to a permanent mark that’s later regretted. This could be likened to packing the wrong clothes for a vacation. You know your destination is hot, but because it’s cold now, you fail to pack appropriate clothing. This, once again, reveals our struggle to connect with our future selves.

This struggle can be traced back to two primary biases. First is the projection bias – our tendency to assume our future selves will feel the way we currently do. Second is the end-of-history-illusion – our belief that our personality and preferences won’t change much in the future. Both of these biases cloud our judgment, leading to decisions we might regret, whether that’s a tattoo we come to dislike, or a romantic relationship that ends poorly.

By understanding these biases and their impact, we can strive to make better decisions for our future selves. In the end, bridging the gap between our present and future selves will help us make choices that we won’t come to regret later. Remember, the key to good decision-making is a clear and empathetic understanding of your future self.

Strategies for balancing the present and future

Imagine running into your future self, only to discover you are dissatisfied, trapped in a failing marriage, and in failing health. The question then becomes, how can you prevent such a future? How can you shape yourself into the best version of you possible? This journey begins by making your future self feel nearer, more tangible, and more real.

Scientific studies suggest that we’re more likely to assist a needy family if told the family has already been selected, as they seem more identifiable, more real. This approach can also be adopted for self-improvement. By composing a letter to your future self or crafting a time capsule, you make your future persona tangible, compelling you to make decisions beneficial for them.

You can also try a mental exercise: visualize your future, and then mentally travel back to the present. When contemplating the future, use days instead of years as your unit of time – a perspective that’s easier to comprehend and operationalize. However, merely visualizing the future isn’t sufficient. Afterwards, taking concrete steps and making firm commitments are necessary as well. For example, procuring a 30-session gym membership signals your commitment to fitness.

Yet relying solely on willpower isn’t always effective. Sometimes it’s better to completely eliminate distractions for your future self. For instance, you could lock your phone in a timed safe to help ensure a period of undistracted work, thereby working in your future self’s favor.

Adding instant punishments for unwanted behaviors is also a powerful motivator – like imposing a fine on yourself if you miss a workout. The sting of an immediate loss will then prompt you to act in your future self’s best interest.

But shaping a better future doesn’t just involve hard choices and sacrifices; it also means making your present more enjoyable. If a task is difficult or unappealing, pair it with something enjoyable. Why not listen to an engaging audiobook while working out, or watch an intriguing YouTube video while brushing your teeth? These are simple modifications that can make mundane or challenging tasks more bearable.

When facing an overwhelming task, like a hefty debt, break it down into smaller, manageable payments. It’s a more approachable strategy and easier on your current self, while still benefiting your future self.

Learning to balance the needs of the present with those of the future is key in this journey. By using some of these strategies, you can construct a bridge to a future where the best version of yourself awaits. It’s a careful balancing act, but one that can lead to a fulfilling future.


Understanding and fostering a relationship with your future self can profoundly affect your present decisions, prompting you to act in ways that align with the best interests of your future self.

Despite the innate capacity for transformation, recognizing and embracing your future self can prove challenging due to perceived distance and lack of tangible connection. This often leads to an emphasis on immediate needs, sometimes at the expense of future well-being.

However, strategies such as visualization, time framing, tangible commitments, immediate consequences for unwanted behaviors, and enhancing the enjoyment of tasks can bridge the gap, nurturing a healthier relationship with your future self. In doing so, you can encourage decisions that promote a more fulfilling future.

About the Authors

Hal Hershfield


Productivity, Personal Development


“Your Future Self: How to Make Tomorrow Better Today” by Hal Hershfield is a captivating self-help book that delves into the concept of future selves and provides actionable strategies to bridge the gap between our present and future selves. Hershfield, a renowned psychologist and expert in the field of decision-making and time perspective, offers valuable insights and practical advice on how to make choices today that align with our long-term goals and aspirations.

Hal Hershfield’s “Your Future Self: How to Make Tomorrow Better Today” is an engaging and thought-provoking exploration of the relationship between our present and future selves. The book takes readers on a journey to understand how our decisions and actions in the present can shape our future lives. Hershfield combines scientific research, real-life examples, and relatable anecdotes to present a comprehensive guide that empowers readers to make positive changes in their lives.

One of the book’s strengths lies in Hershfield’s ability to distill complex psychological concepts into accessible and practical advice. He introduces the concept of “future self” and explains how our perception of our future selves can influence our decision-making processes. By helping readers develop a deeper connection and empathy with their future selves, Hershfield encourages them to make choices that prioritize long-term well-being over short-term gratification.

Throughout the book, Hershfield provides readers with a range of strategies and techniques to bridge the gap between their present and future selves. He emphasizes the importance of setting clear goals, creating implementation intentions, and developing habits that support our desired future outcomes. The author also addresses common psychological barriers, such as procrastination and temptation, and offers strategies to overcome them effectively.

What sets “Your Future Self” apart is Hershfield’s ability to strike a balance between scientific rigor and practical applicability. He draws on a wealth of research from psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience, but presents the information in a way that is accessible to readers from all walks of life. The book is filled with relatable examples and exercises that allow readers to reflect on their own lives and apply the principles discussed.

Moreover, Hershfield’s writing style is engaging and conversational, making the book an enjoyable read. He combines personal anecdotes with research findings, making the content relatable and relaying complex ideas in a digestible manner. The book is well-structured, with each chapter building upon the previous one, creating a cohesive narrative that guides readers towards a deeper understanding of their future selves.

While “Your Future Self” offers valuable insights and practical advice, it is worth noting that some readers may find the content repetitive at times. The book reiterates certain concepts and strategies throughout different chapters, which can be both beneficial for reinforcement and slightly redundant for those seeking new information.

In conclusion, “Your Future Self: How to Make Tomorrow Better Today” by Hal Hershfield is an exceptional book that offers a fresh perspective on personal growth and decision-making. Hershfield’s expertise in the field shines through as he guides readers towards understanding the importance of their future selves and provides actionable steps to align their present actions with their long-term goals. Whether you’re seeking personal development or looking to make positive changes in your life, this book is a valuable resource that will inspire and empower you to become the best version of yourself.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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