Temporal Comparisons: How the Future Self Affects Current Self-Appraisals and Motivation
As the role of thinking about one’s future in terms of decision-making and goal pursuit gains momentum, it becomes increasingly important to ensure the balance between optimistic future thinking and rational self-concepts. This question especially gains significance in light of the fact that thinking about the future itself may not always instigate behavioral changes. The present research, drawing on subjective time perceptions, self-cognition, and self-regulation, proposes that people adjust their self-views depending on the extent to which they exclude their future selves from their current self-representation. Evidence from six studies demonstrates that when the future is perceived to be excluded from one’s current identity or self-construal, a greater perceived gap between the present and the future is likely to yield a comparison process by which people draw a contrast with their superior future selves and subsequently express critical self-evaluation. Such comparative thinking will increase one’s motivation to improve. The findings complement and extend previous research on the role of thinking about the future while demonstrating that different narratives of one’s future are a valuable source for understanding and predicting people’s view of themselves and current behavior.
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