What do you want to achieve?
Are you planning to save money for a luxury trip this summer? A new house the year after next? Retirement … 20 years from now?
The further away your goal, the less urgent it may seem. And the less urgent, the harder to stay on track.
Researchers Neil A. Lewis Jr, from the University of Michigan, and Daphna Oyserman, from the University of Southern California, found an easy way to keep yourself motivated to work towards your goal, whatever it may be.
In a paper published in Psychological Science, they concluded that looking at the time left until your deadline in smaller units of time makes you better able to stay mentally on-point — for instance, thinking of time not a year from away, but 365 days.
The researchers primed participants with either one of two time metrics for three randomly assigned scenarios. Participants filled in the blank for when they should start saving, cued by units of either days or years to match the scenario given. For example, they were asked to say when they would start saving for college that started in either 18 years or in 6,570 days, for retirement starting in 30 years or in 10,950 days, or for retirement starting in 40 years or in 14,600 days.
The researchers found that people who thought in terms of days planned to start saving money four times sooner than those who used years as a measure — “even after age, income, and education were accounted for.”
“Time metrics mattered not because they changed how distal or important future events felt, but because they changed how connected and congruent their current and future selves felt,” the researchers wrote in the study abstract.
Going forward, then, retirement isn’t 20 years away. It’s 7,300 days.