For Mark Roberts’ Use: We all know that we need to plan for retirement, and yet many people tend to procrastinate for years. It could be that financial issues seem too challenging to tackle, or it may be a busy schedule that prevents us from paying attention to this pressing needs. Those might just be excuses, however, as psychologists believe there are even deeper reasons so many of us avoid thinking about retirement.

Psychologists and economists have developed a theory called temporal discounting. In layman’s terms this means we care more about present outcomes than we do the future. Why is this so? For one thing, present rewards tend to trigger a stronger emotional reaction than the idea of future rewards. Just think about the last time you were trying to lose weight (a long-term goal) and a piece of cake was presented to you. For most people the present reward of eating that delicious cake outweighed any future reward of feeling slimmer and healthier.

Also, we tend to overestimate how good a positive situation will make us feel, or how bad a negative outcome will feel. It’s just a normal part of human psychology, but it does impair our ability to plan for the distant future.

For these reasons, many people fail to plan adequately for retirement. Luckily, there are two different ways we can intervene and help to encourage some future-oriented thinking. Many companies are now changing the way retirement contributions are handled. Workers are automatically enrolled in a retirement plan, and they must opt out if they don’t want to contribute. This requires some conscious thought, and many realize opting out is not such a good idea.

The second intervention is all up to you. Imagine your future self at retirement age, and the life you would hope to live. When you switch your thinking from “current self” to “future self”, your ability to plan for the long-term future actually improves. Remember to do this exercise before talking to your financial advisor, and your meetings will be much more productive. One day you’ll be glad you planned ahead.