Tag Archives: Recovery Journey

Teens Lack Future Planning

Disconnecting From Your Future Self: Why We Prolong Our Recovery

As a common practice, employers the world over ask their potential candidates a simple question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?”

This line of questioning is meant to learn a candidate’s headspace, both in terms of their own plans for the future. and where they see themselves fitting within that framework. A candidate who has no clue where they will be in 5-10 years might seem, to an employer, to have no direction or purpose, especially when it comes to their goals within that company.

If a person cannot visualize themselves in a position within the company for which they’re applying, happy, successful, and possibly in a higher position than the job they’re applying for, how are employers to have faith in their prospective employee’s motivation for applying?

It’s similar for those in recovery from substance abuse disorder. The ability to visualize ourselves in a position of health, happiness, and continued recovery without relapse is paramount to recovery. As I explored the benefits of the visualization of success in recovery in part 1 of this blog series, I’ll likewise explore the detriments of not visualizing our future selves regarding our recovery—a roadblock many of us experience on our journeys of recovery.

Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a Good-Looking Corpse

James Dean once said, “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.” As morbid and disturbing as this quote is, I’ve found that it resonates with the youth of today in a big way. In fact, the sentiment has even evolved into a more modern iteration: “YOLO,” which is an acronym for “You Only Live Once”. The reasoning behind this phrase is that this is the only life you are given so you might as well live life right up to the hilt. You can find this phrase on t-shirts, mugs, water bottles, and even blankets, for some reason.

At first glance, this “YOLO” mentality might seem fun, clever, and certainly less morbid than Dean’s viewpoint. Unlike Dean’s reckoning, there is less emphasis on death in the future and more emphasis on our lives in the present, which serves to make it much more attractive to youth. Unfortunately, the phrase has also shifted in meaning as it’s become popular, as the most viral catchphrases often do. Instead of a “seize the day/carpe diem” sentiment, it’s become a rallying cry of unaccountability and encouragement to take unnecessary risks. The mindset is exceedingly harmful because it completely separates who we are today from our future selves, who will inevitably experience the fallout from today’s decisions.

Teens’ Future Planning (Or Lack Thereof)

Teens Lack Future Planning

It should come as no surprise that the younger subset of the populace has a tough time imagining their future selves as themselves, just “older”. So, it follows that making life-altering decisions that might affect a teen’s life later comes from this disconnection from their future selves. When teens make decisions like committing a crime or cheating on an important test, they often focus on the immediate consequences—punishment from parents and teachers versus the fact that a conviction will affect their permanent record and academic dishonesty will one day look unfavorable on a college application.

We are predisposed to miss the connections between our present and future selves. In social media, we see that adults today are being taken to task for problematic photos, comments, social media posts and other communiques of their youth, sometimes decades in the past. At the time, most of these individuals had no regard for what the behavior could mean for them in the future. While I can’t speak to the fairness of asking an adult to answer for the “crimes” of their younger, more frivolous selves, it is very much a reality today, especially with social media—and social evidence of the dangers of disconnection with your future self.

Inability to Visualize Future Self and Its Harm

Believe it or not, this mindset is not just employed by teenagers, as evidenced by the adults the world over who use this “YOLO” phrase unironically before they engage in risky or dangerous behavior. While a teenager’s lack of impulse control is backed by science because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed, the science behind an adult’s risky behavior lies heavily in how we fail to visualize our future selves. Similarly, in teenagers, risk-taking and James Deansian “Rebel Without a Cause” behavior is also understandable and can serve a purpose. Some of the risks taken in youth will not result in positive future outcomes, but may provide life lessons. For adults, the consequences are much more dire.

For example, an adult who does not plan for their end-of-life expenses by way of life insurance could leave their family with hefty funeral expenses and a mountain of debt when they inevitably die. Yet, many of us do just that. While we’re living life, the concept of death is too scary and too troublesome to think about, so we procrastinate and “put off ‘til tomorrow what could be done today”.

Another instance of our need to visualize our future selves as they connect with our present decisions is when we make plans for retirement. By the time we reach federal retirement age at 65 years old, those of us who don’t have a retirement fund or pension must either ask for financial help from children or other family members or keep working to support our expenses. Where we fail, so to speak, is in visualizing ourselves as a retired person later in life when we’re younger. For a time, I, too, fell into the trap of this mindset, until my current path helped me see that the successful person I am today is connected to my past decisions as well as the self I will be in the future.

Why Do We Procrastinate on Important Decisions?

Why Do We Procrastinate on Important Decisions?According to fMRI scans run by Hal Hershfield of the Harvard Business Review with G. Elliot Wimmer and Brian Knutson of Stanford: “Many people feel disconnected from the individuals they’ll be in the future and, as a result, discount rewards that would later benefit them. But brief exposure to aged images of the self can change that behavior.” By being able to visualize themselves as physically older using a visual aid, subjects in the Hershfield study were able to shift their thinking in favor of striving for future rewards.

He further studied how people viewed themselves in the future as compared to how they viewed Hollywood celebrities like Matt Damon and Natalie Portman. Surprisingly, people tended to view themselves in the future and the actors in the same light – as strangers.

Hershfield found that, after reading about celebrities’ lives in gossip magazines, social media, and the like, we continue to regard them as strangers even with our “inside look” into their day-to-day lives. This is because they are strangers – we have never met these people in person, and we have not developed any kind of meaningful interpersonal relationship with them. Our inability to empathize with them, especially with the disparities in income and lifestyle, is normal and understandable.

However, the realization that we largely view our future selves the same as we view celebrities is somewhat alarming. This disconnect and the perception of our future selves as strangers is apparent when you consider alcohol, drug, and even tobacco use. Even with decades of scientific knowledge, readily available on the internet, of what happens to healthy lungs over years of smoking, people still choose to do so. They see their respiratory health as “future me’s” problem, unable to see the irony that “future me” and “current me” have the same set of lungs.

Future Visualization in Recovery

When we make decisions to use illicit drugs or develop a dependency on addictive substances, we are not visualizing our future selves at all. Much like the hypothetical smoker above, we are laying the burden of consequence on a future stranger, not connecting them with ourselves. Drinking to excess with friends seems like a fun time in the moment, especially with alcohol’s inhibiting effect. For many people experiencing addiction, the impact large amounts of alcohol or drugs have on the body, whether a hangover the next morning or liver failure from repeated excessive use years later, are still “future me’s” problem.

The disconnect can persist once recovery begins, delaying progress towards a future of sobriety and health. For this reason, during recovery from substance use disorder, future self-visualization is key. A therapist or mental health professional might implement the techniques employed by Hershfield and his colleagues mentioned above, such as displaying an age progressed photo to help lock in a person’s connection to their future self and what that might look like. Another way of doing this is to have a person close their eyes and really visualize, vividly, where they are in their recovery in a year’s time, 5 years’ time, and moving forward. By doing this, we are seeing ourselves as successful in recovery and truly identifying with our future selves. This further solidifies our motivation to achieve that goal of sobriety/successful recovery.

Conversely, by remaining disconnected from our future selves, we’re unable to see ourselves in sobriety—or even visualize what the alternative of remaining in addiction might truly mean for us. We remain blind to what sobriety might look like in terms of our relationships with our family and friends, our future work success, and how sobriety now affects our future selves. Without building these connections, that sober person in our future is a stranger, diminishing our personal investment in them, and making that goal much harder to achieve.

In many instances, inability to see ourselves as a sober person in the future, free of substance use disorder, can discourage us from continuing to receive help. Or, it can hinder and prolong our journey of recovery. Instead, work to develop a true connection with your future, sober, self, and continue your recovery in harmony with your goals for success.

Start Visualizing A Better Future Today

Visualizing A Better FutureAt ECHO Recovery, we are committed to educating the public about recovery and all the latest science behind it, including future-self visualization as a method of motivating a person to seek help with substance use disorder. We are also passionately fighting the stigma of substance use disorder and its negative effect on those in recovery.

The information on our site, our art classes and other resources are completely free to you. Please consider donating, volunteering, becoming a corporate sponsor or simply subscribing to our blog and following us on social media. Every effort helps us reach more people who need help with recovery. We do this because we care.

The Benefits of Connecting With Your Future Self

The Benefits of Connecting With Your Future Self

We Think of Our Future Selves as Strangers

Try to imagine your birthday next year. Now visualize yourself in 20 years, on your birthday. Did you see yourself through your own eyes blowing out the candles? What did you see in 20 years? Was it someone else, unfamiliar, who was blowing out the candles? For many people, it is extremely difficult to connect to a future version of themselves. I know that I never imagined the person I am today when I thought about my life 20 years down the road.

This disconnect between our current selves and that future version that is out there in the distance can make it difficult to make life choices that are beneficial to our future selves. Not having an emotional connection to our future selves makes it more difficult to make long-term plans, fulfill the goals we set for ourselves, and complete long-term projects. Given that our recovery journey is a long-term project, I’m sure you can see the importance of developing an emotional connection to our future selves.

The Science Behind Connecting to Our Future Self

The importance of connecting to our future selves is grounded in scientific evidence. Scientists from Stanford University used fMRI scans of research participant’s brains to compare neural patterns. Their research focused on the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex, which experience more activity when a person thinks about himself. They found that when people were asked to describe their self ten years from now, their neurological patterns were similar to those patterns formed when thinking about another person such as a celebrity, instead of resembling the neurological patterns formed when thinking about their current self.

This same data was evidenced across the board of the research project. So, from the perspective of their brain, the future self was a completely different person. Those participants that had the widest variance between their view of their present and future self were also the least likely to defer immediate gratification for future rewards. These are the people for whom procrastination can be a serious problem.

If the part of your brain that lights up when you think of your current self is not the same as the part that is engaged when you think about your future self, it makes sense that it is difficult to take action today for some future version of yourself that you don’t feel connected to. For most of us, it’s the here and now that feels important. The “just for today” takes precedent over the “what about ten years from now.” Why not eat that extra piece of cake?

These same researchers found that by helping participants develop an emotional connection with their future selves, they were also more likely to participate in more future-oriented behavior. The correlation between a strong emotional connection to our future self and a willingness to put in the necessary work today to reap the benefits for our future self indicates how valuable and nurturing this relationship can be.

Impacts of Disconnection From Your Future Self

Impacts of Disconnection From Your Future Self When we are disconnected from our future selves, we are less likely to consider the impact that today’s actions have on our future. Our biases towards thinking in terms of the present make immediate gratification a more tempting option. We can see, feel, and taste the impact of our decisions in the present, but their effects on our future selves are a lot less tangible. For many of us who have struggled with addiction and substance abuse disorders, this is an all too familiar mindset.

Plus, we all tend to be overly positive about the expectations of our ability to make better decisions tomorrow. This disconnection impacts those who don’t struggle with substance abuse as well.

Here are a few areas of our lives that can be impacted by a disconnection with our future selves:


It can be much more difficult to save money for retirement when you can’t even begin to connect to the version of yourself that is 40 years in the future. So, instead of putting that tax refund into a retirement fund, you take a trip to Disney. But what if you had a picture of your 75-year-old self on your computer screen while you were making that decision? Would you still go to Disney? The research shows that simply having an avatar that resembles our aged self can cause us to deliberate a little longer and make a better choice for our future self.


How many of us can relate to the “I’ll start my diet tomorrow” syndrome? And then tomorrow comes, but your brain is still not connected to that future version of yourself, and instead of starting that diet, you have that piece of cake or take a nap instead of a walk. Would you still participate in behavior that can put you at risk for chronic disease if you felt emotionally connected and responsible for that future version of yourself?


Would you still cheat on a test or steal that purse if you knew what the impact would be on your future self? If you could see your future self, sitting in jail, would you be as likely to break into someone’s house to steal a TV? Research shows that those who have an emotional connection to their future self are less likely to behave in unethical ways.


Making sacrifices today for a better future in 20 years can be a tough sell when you have no real connection to that person. Sleeping in on the weekend is much easier than studying for a test, especially when you lack a connection to that future Fortune 500 version of yourself. Besides, you can get up early next weekend. Unfortunately, next weekend you will still have that present-day mindset that put you in this situation last weekend.

Substance Abuse

Would you choose to snort cocaine just for fun at that party you went to after work if you could see your future self dealing with withdrawal symptoms? Or would you still go to your daughter’s birthday party drunk out of your mind, if you could see your future self, living alone in an apartment because your wife divorced you and you no longer have custody of your children? The immediate gratification we derive from a substance can quickly turn into abuse and addiction for our future self that we never connect with our actions at the moment.

The thing is, until we change from a present-day bias in our thinking and connect more emotionally to our future selves, we will keep putting things off and making decisions that are based on immediate gratification.

Your Connection to Your Future Self Impacts Your Recovery Journey

Recovery Journey It isn’t that difficult to see how a disconnection to the future version of ourselves contributes to the choices that many of us made that lead us down the path of substance abuse. The immediate gratification of getting high or having that drink was much more tangible than the idea that our future self might end up in a rehab facility, especially when our mind thinks of our future self in the same way it views a stranger. Why would we prioritize the health and happiness of someone we aren’t connected to above the happiness and immediate gratification of this real-time version of ourselves?

If this disconnection to our future self contributed to the person we are today, then it is only logical that we can choose to connect to our future self in such a way as to make better decisions and to support our recovery process. Instead of only seeing ourselves as an alcoholic or an addict who is confined to that role, and all that comes with it, we can focus on our future selves and the goals we have for the future. If we can emotionally connect to a non-using version of ourselves, and make choices that will support that vision, then, based on science, we should find those positive choices are much easier to make.

Visualization is a powerful tool for bringing about change. The more vivid and realistic you can make that vision of a positive future self, and the more you can align it with your present self, the more likely you will be to act in a way that supports that vision. You will find that it is easier to sacrifice the immediate gratification of today to support that future self that you have grown to care about.

Imagine a future birthday party for your children where you are not only present physically but mentally and emotionally too. Imagine getting a promotion at your job or receiving a 5-year coin for your sobriety journey. The more real your goals are for your future self, the more you can connect that person to who you are today.

Another great tool for developing a closer connection to this vision is to write a letter from your future self, thanking your present-day self for having the courage to make the kinds of changes that allowed these positive milestones to happen. What actions did you take? How did you change your behavior? What sacrifices led to that future success?

Benefits of Connecting to Our Future Self

Taking the time to emotionally connect with our future selves can change the way we think and strengthen our ability to make positive choices in the present moment. Making simple changes such as playing out a decision before we act on it can connect us more deeply to our future self. Before deciding to put something off until tomorrow, play out the scenario.

If I don’t finish studying today and put it off till next week, then I’ll have to stay up late after I get off work to finish my studying. If I work late, I’ll be too tired to study and then fall asleep. Then when I have to take the test the next day, I’ll be tired and unprepared… may as well study now.  Taking the 20 seconds to walk yourself through the impact of your decision on your future self has now changed your brain’s neural process to think of your future self as being more directly connected to your present actions.

The more time we spend connecting to our future self, the more integrated that version of our self becomes with our present-day self. The most successful people have a strong connection to the future version of themselves and can act in such a way as to bring that vision to fruition. They can delay immediate gratification because they are deeply connected to the future vision of themselves.

Ways to Connect to Our Future Self

Taking the time to focus on better connections with your future self can provide the motivation you need to develop healthy habits in the here and now. Think about what you envision for your future self. What do your relationships look like? What does your recovery look like for your future self?

The following writing prompts can serve as a starting point to developing that connection:

  1. Try to envision your life five years from now. What does your path look like? What kind of work do you do? Where do you live? How do you spend your free time? How do you feel physically and emotionally? Try to visualize yourself in 10 years, and then farther down the path at 20 years from now. Have you chosen a different path for yourself? Are you doing the same work? Are you living in a different place?
  2. Write a letter to your “current self “from your “future self.” What type of advice do you think they might offer you? What kind of personal insight into your growth could they teach you? What have they learned in the future that can help you now?
  3. Take some time in the morning to consider how your present actions impact where you will be in the next 5,10, or 20 years. If that seems too far off, try the prompt using a year from now. Then make a list of actions you can take today that will have a positive impact on bringing you closer to your vision of your future self.

Prioritize a Relationship With Your Future Self

Prioritize a Relationship With Your Future SelfThe path of recovery requires that we not only take each 24-hour day, minute by minute but also that we envision a future for ourselves that is full of the things that we define as success and the love and joy of our friends and family. Our journey is a journey of discovering ourselves, and that includes connecting to the vision that we have for our future self. The more we can bring this vision to life and stay connected to this non-using version of ourselves, the more likely we are to make the positive choices that will make this future our reality.

Making a friend out of the stranger that our future self can be, is a beneficial step for anyone who wants to make more positive choices in the here and now. It can help you stop procrastination tendencies, delay immediate gratification, and improve your lifestyle to benefit your future. Take the next step on your journey of self-discovery today.