Last week, I suggested that one of the most important things in life is figuring out how to balance those times when we want to live for the moment and those times when we should plan for the future.
I said that there are two aspects that turn these decisions into real dilemmas. The first is that there is no hard and fast rule. That is, sometimes we should be planning for the future and other times we should be living for the moment. But knowing which is which is often very difficult.
The second is that when we are faced with a dilemma of this nature, it is not just between an immediate consequence and a distant one. Immediate consequences tend to be more certain and more concrete. That is, if I eat a piece of chocolate cake I am sure to enjoy it and I know how good it will be. But many factors will influence whether I suffer from heart disease and even if I do it is impossible to know what that will feel like or what the outcome will be. We can hardly fault people for choosing the favorable option when it is more immediate and more certain.
I have been thinking about the importance of considering future consequences for almost twenty years now. I published the first paper on it in 1994 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. My sense has always been that we can divide people into two categories—those who tend to think about future consequences in deciding how to act and those who tend to be more focused on the immediate. You probably have a good sense of which type of person you are, and the important thing to note is that there is no right or wrong way to be. At the end of this post you will find the Consideration of Future Consequences (CFC) Scale. Answer the 14 questions to see how you score.
Even though I have not directly addressed the possible influence of CFC in relationships you can probably see how it might be relevant. Relationship difficulties tend to arise in relationships, for instance, when one partner is a spender and the other a saver, or when one partner wants to party and the other wants to start a family. I am not saying that both partners have to be high or low in CFC, but it is essential that each partner understands the tendencies the other has to favor immediate or distant consequences. Successful relationships require you to consider your partner’s needs and desires and keeping in mind your partner’s tendencies to think in terms of now or later will help you predict how they are likely to think or act in a given situation.
The Consideration of Future Consequences-14 Scale
For each of the statements shown, please indicate whether or not the statement is characteristic of you. If the statement is extremely uncharacteristic of you (not at all like you) please respond with a “1” in the space at the beginning of the statement; if the statement is extremely characteristic of you (very much like you) please respond with a “7.” And, of course, use the numbers in the middle if you fall between the extremes.
1. ___ I consider how things might be in the future, and try to influence those things with my day to day behavior.
2. ___ Often I engage in a particular behavior in order to achieve outcomes that may not result for many years.
3. ___ I only act to satisfy immediate concerns, figuring the future will take care of itself.
4. ___ My behavior is only influenced by the immediate (i.e., a matter of days or weeks) outcomes of my actions.
5. ___ My convenience is a big factor in the decisions I make or the actions I take.
6. ___ I am willing to sacrifice my immediate happiness or well-being in order to achieve future outcomes.
7. ___ I think it is important to take warnings about negative outcomes seriously even if the negative outcome will not occur for many years.
8. ___ I think it is more important to perform a behavior with important distant consequences than a behavior with less important immediate consequences.
9. ___ I generally ignore warnings about possible future problems because I think the problems will be resolved before they reach crisis level.
10. ___ I think that sacrificing now is usually unnecessary since future outcomes can be dealt with at a later time.
11. ___ I only act to satisfy immediate concerns, figuring that I will take care of future problems that may occur at a later date.
12. ___ Since my day to day work has specific outcomes, it is more important to me than behavior that has distant outcomes.
13. ___ When I make a decision, I think about how it might affect me in the future.
14. ___ My behavior is generally influenced by future consequences.
Scoring the Scale:
For items 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12 take each score and subtract it from 8. So if you originally answered Item 1 with a 7, cross out the 7 and replace it with a 1 (8-7=1). Then add up these seven new numbers along with your original responses to the other seven items (1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14) to arrive at one overall score.
Your score can range from 14 to 98. The middle of the scale would be a total score of 56. If your score is higher than 56 then you tend to consider future consequences. And of course the closer you are to 98 (the highest possible score) the stronger this tendency is. Scoring below 56 indicates that you tend to consider immediate consequences to a greater extent and the closer to 14 (the lowest possible score) your score is, the stronger this tendency is.
If you have any trouble with this please feel free to email me. I would be happy to help out.
In case you are interested…
Joireman, J., Shaffer, M., Balliet, D., & Strathman, A. (2011). Promotion orientation explains why future oriented people exercise and eat healthy: Evidence from the two‐factor Consideration of Future Consequences-14 Scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 1272–1287.