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Six Ways to Use ‘Self-Continuity’ to Strengthen Your Retirement Plan

Picture of Randall E. White

Randall E. White


If you’re like most people, you’ve already put some thought into your retirement plans and the lifestyle you’ll lead. Hopefully, you’ve begun contributing to retirement funds or building other assets for your eventual retirement, too. You may have even thought a little about your age at retirement or brainstormed some specifics of where you’d like to be or what you’d like to be doing. These are useful and necessary parts of retirement planning. However, there is one extra step you can take that will make your decisions for the future even easier, and it’s an Ancient Greek concept called “self-continuity.”

Self-continuity involves imagining your future-self and relating to that person. It allows you to connect with who you will be in the future in a less abstract way, and it can increase your ability to prepare for that time in your life. Researchers have found that being able to relate and project yourself to that future-self in more vivid and realistic terms can make you more willing and capable to make the decisions that will benefit you the most in the future. This can be invaluable, of course, when planning your retirement.

Below are six techniques that will enable you to use self-continuity to bridge that gap between who you are now and who you will be in retirement.

Technique #1: Get Clear on the Details

The first step to take is visualizing what life will be like for you in the future. Bring it out of the abstract realm as much as possible. Fill in as many details about your future life as you can. Take some of these questions into consideration to help you get started:

  •  What will you spend your time doing day-to-day? Will you still be working in some capacity? Will you work part-time as a consultant? How much of your day will be dedicated to hobbies, and what will those hobbies be?
  • Who will be in your life? What family members or friends are you planning to see regularly? Who will you interact with while pursuing your hobbies or in your community?
  • Where do you plan to live? Will you be in a city, or a more rural area? Do you plan on living near friends or family? Will you have multiple residences you split your time between?
  • What will your health regimen be? Will you exercise regularly? Will you cultivate a healthy diet?
  •  What will you be shopping for? What type of clothing will you wear? Will you have the latest phone or computer?
  • What challenges may you be facing? What may have gone wrong in your life? Can you project any bumps in the road that may be occurring? Is there anything you can do now to prevent any of these potential problems?

Let the imagery created by these questions create a clearer vision of your future self. This person is you; think about what choices you can make now to ensure the positive things you want for that future-self, as well as avoiding potential challenges.

Technique #2: Harness the Power of When

Something as simple as a single word can have a big impact on how we approach the future. Think of your choices in terms of “when.” When I move to…, or when I retire…, will create a stronger connection to your future self than saying “if.” The word “if” implies doubt and uncertainty, so take it out of your retirement planning vocabulary and set yourself up for success so you can focus on strategies for achieving your goals instead of focusing on whether or not they will come to fruition.

SEE ALSO: How the Sandwich Generation Can Protect Their Retirement

Technique #3: Write a Letter to Yourself

Writing a letter to yourself can be a powerful experience, and there is freedom in doing so in private. Writing the letter is an opportunity to talk about what is happening in your life in the present. Let yourself know what you hope the future will hold and what things will have changed. This exercise is meant to create a connection between your present moment and the future.

Several web sites, like letterstomyfutureself.netfutureme.org, and theself.club,  allow you to write an email to yourself that they will then send to you at a future time.

Technique #4: Project Your Choices into the Future

Once you have begun relating to your future-self a little more concretely, it will become easier to relate to how your choices might impact that future-self. When looking at how choices affect the future, do not neglect the smaller choices you make day-to-day. Like a snowball rolling down a mountain, a small decision we make daily can develop into a large change later in life, represented as an accumulation of our choices. Ask yourself the following questions to get started:

  • What is your diet? How active is your physical life, and do you get plenty of exercise? How will this affect your body and health in the future?
  • How do you spend your free time? Do you work most nights? Are you part of any clubs or charitable organizations? Do you have any hobbies?
  • With whom do you spend your time? Who are the people in your life that you expend energy to stay in contact with? The strong bonds you form with other people in the present often correlate to the people who will be in your life later.
  • How much money do you save? Will it be enough? Do you treat yourself to spending sprees or put a lot on credit cards? How will this change your future financial situation?

You may not like all of your current answers to these questions, but relating their impact to your future self could be just the motivation you need to begin changing some of your habits for the better.

Technique #5: Stop Focusing on the Short-Term

Related to the previous technique, when you make new decisions, begin thinking about their future outcomes. Whenever you are making a choice, measure the current benefits versus the benefits you will receive in the future. If all your choices tend to be for short-term benefits with little benefit in the future for your retirement, you may want to rethink your decisions.

This technique is not meant to discourage you from self-care or to encourage a rigid state of mind. However, it is a useful exercise when you use it to see what the benefits of your decisions will be and if they are worth it.

SEE ALSO: Three Ways Retiring at Different Ages Might Affect You and Your Spouse’s Retirement Plans

Technique #6: Make a Vision Board

Athletes have been using visualization techniques for years in their competitions. Visualization can increase motivation, confidence, and even motor performance. You can also use visualization to focus on your life goals using a vision board. Fill the board with images or phrases that speak to your motivations to achieve your goals. You can create several different boards if needed, that include either short- or long-term goals. Put the boards in a place that you frequently see, and feel free to make updates as goals are achieved or altered. Though traditional vision boards are created with physical elements like magazine cuttings, photos, or stickers, there are tools available today for virtual vision boards, too.

Final Thoughts on Self-Continuity and Retirement Planning

Using the concept of self-continuity can help you develop a better picture of your retirement future, while also informing your choices in the present. Since retirement planning is about much more than dollars and cents, give these techniques a try as you work toward developing a full retirement plan that will serve your future self.

Securities offered through Triad Advisors, LLC, member FINRA/SPIC. Advisory services offered through TriCapital Wealth Management, Inc. TriCapital Wealth Management, Inc. is not affiliated with Triad Advisors, LLC.

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