What Seinfeld Can Teach Us about Personal Transformation.

July 26, 2022

What Seinfeld Can Teach Us about Personal Transformation.

May 29, 2023

I work in the field of retirement planning and coaching. One of the most pervasive forms of thinking among people that come to see me is to separate time into before and after retirement. Retirement acts as the wall separating who they are while employed and who they are going to be in the future.

Two identities like pre-unification East and West Berlin often totally delinked from each other. That’s the way a lot of people think of themselves – there is your Current Self, busy and laser-focused on what you need to get done today and then there’s almost a different person, your Future Self, living somewhere in retirement with only a vague sense for what the next phase in life might hold.

Jerry Seinfeld has a similar but funnier way of looking at things. He has Nighttime Guy who loves staying up way too late being the life of the party, and Morning Guy who wakes up groggy and upset that his needs are never a priority. The immediate gratification urges of Nighttime Guy keep winning. There is little that Morning Guy can do unless he figures a way to make Nighttime Guy think ahead to the consequences of his behavior.

Humans, in general, have a tendency to favor the present at the expense of the future even when they know that a better balance between immediate gratification and satisfying future needs would likely create better lifetime outcomes. We all know that life is full of trade-offs but we often behave as if the future will never arrive.

Psychologist Hal Hershfield from UCLA has studied this phenomenon extensively. He has found that people who feel connected to their Future Self aka “Morning Guy” behave in a manner more consistent with their long-term needs and desires. People who view their Future Selves as total strangers behave like Nighttime Guy with little regard for their future.

The further out the future, the less connected people tend to feel about it. If Nighttime Guy does not care about tomorrow morning do you think he’ll care about what happens 10 or 20 years in the future? We all have some Nighttime Guy in us. Our brains have not evolved to think that far ahead but that does not mean that we should succumb only to the wants and desires of today. What it means is that we need to be more conscious of the trade-offs we’re making between our actions today and our longer-term needs.

The clearer we become about our Future Self, the better decisions we will make and the less time we will spend in the “messy middle” trying to figure out our life.

There are three questions we all need to answer. The first is who you want to become as a person. The second is what you want to achieve for the rest of your life. The third is figuring out why your life matters. These three answers or “pillars” represent the foundation upon which your Future Self resides.

Coming up with a vision for your Future Self is not a straightforward task. As humans, we are much better at recreating our past rather than imagining our future. Research by Daniel Gilbert of Harvard shows that most people assume that their future will not be that different from their current situation, but in reality, we are always evolving and changing. Think about it – are you the same person you were 10 years ago? Not likely. We’re always evolving but wouldn’t it be nice if we evolved in an intentional rather than haphazard manner toward our Future Self?

By gaining a clear idea of your Future Self you’ll save yourself the aggravation of lost time, money, and endless frustration. You’ll gain a sense of control over your life, and be more patient, and less reactive to the noise around you.

The key to creating a fulfilling life is not only conceptualizing your Future Self but also establishing a strong emotional attachment to your vision. You need Nighttime Guy to become emotionally invested in the success of Morning Guy. Emotions are the fuel enabling Nighttime Guy to defer some immediate gratification in exchange for achieving a much more lasting and meaningful life over the long-term.

You’ll still be tempted at times to be Nighttime Guy but a deep connection to your Future Self creates purpose and meaning in the present. Instead of seeing your present day life as being separated by an imaginary wall from your future you will start acting today in alignment with your Future Self. You’ll be in a committed relationship with little thought of seeking greener pastures. This is it. As with a real spouse or partner you’ll start thinking as a team mulling questions such as “What would my Future Self do?”

Eric J. Weigel is the founder of Retire With Possibilities, an advisory and retirement coaching firm dedicated to helping people consciously design their own journey into retirement in all aspects -financial as well as non-financial – affecting the quality of their post-career experience. He is also an alum of MEA Online. He is the author of a forthcoming book, Re-Imaging Your Retirement Years.

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