Need-Fulfilling Strategies & Future Self-Continuity

Via Loaded by Sara Newbomb:

“Specifically, when the future self shares similarities with the present self, when it is viewed in vivid and realistic terms, and when it is seen in a positive light, people are more willing to make choices today that may benefit them at some point in the years to come.” —Hal Hershfield.

Hershfield’s research suggests that the more we visualize our future self as really, specifically being just like us, the better we are able to act on current plans that feel deprivational to provide for the future.

Does your salary come from your employer? Not at all! Your employer is simply renting your time and skills. Your salary is the result of your internal resources being turned into a valuable asset that you lease to your employer in the form of labor. Your skills are the asset. Your salary comes from you.

You are your most important asset-generating resource to nurture and protect.

Just like your future self doesn’t benefit if you go sprinting on the hedonic treadmill, your future self also doesn’t benefit if you burn out so badly that you jeopardize your ability to work in your profession at a high level. You have needs now and in the future, and neither should be ignored.

Newcomb’s nice section on needs starts with our old friend Maslow:

It is quite true that man lives by bread alone—when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled? At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency. —Maslow, 1943, p. 375

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a single word from the “hierarchy of needs” primary source before.

Then, we combine that with this less staid perspective of wants versus needs:

Every moment each human being is doing the best we know at that moment to meet our needs. We never do anything that is not in the service of a need. There is no conflict on our planet at the level of needs. We all have the same needs. The problem is in strategies for meeting the needs. —Marshall Rosenberg

And she brings that around to personal finance:

How many times have you tried to cut back on a certain expense only to find yourself splurging later? This comes from the fact that what we have called wants are actually needs. The core message of Rosenberg’s work was that every action a person takes is intended (consciously or unconsciously) to meet a basic need, and that our needs are universal. Any one of our needs might feel more important than another in a given situation, depending on the person and the circumstance. On one day, you may feel a powerful need for intimacy. The next, you may desperately seek solitude.


Very often, when people are trying to make ends meet, their first strategy is to start cutting expenses. While this is a great instinct, and we often do want to cut back on our spending, the problem with this approach is that if you do not take the time to ask yourself what need that expense was meeting, you will find that your new budget is very uncomfortable. Just like a dieter who restricts himself too much only to find himself eating an entire pizza in a late-night frenzy, we can do more harm to our finances than good by ignoring our needs when we cut our expenses.

Her rule of thumb:

If everyone cannot have it at once, it’s a strategy, not a need. Dig deeper to find the real need.

Wants are strategies for filling needs. The need is non-negotiable, but the strategy is mutable.

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