It was with mixed feelings that Hal Hershfield sat down for a video chat with a serial killer. But Hershfield, a behavioral economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, thought Pedro Rodrigues Filho could teach him something about how we can all make better decisions.
Rodrigues spent a total of 41 years in prison for the murder of 71 people and other crimes. In their conversation, he described to Hershfield how, one day, his mindset changed dramatically. While in solitary confinement after killing a fellow inmate who attacked him, he said he spoke to God and vowed to change.
After his second release from prison, in 2018, Rodrigues claimed to have stopped killing, started exercising and started educating others about the dangers of crime on YouTube. “I consider myself a new person now,” he told Hershfield.
This step change was “a concrete example of how we can be different over time,” says Hershfield. In his book, your future me, Hershfield shows that people who feel close to their future selves — and realize they can be different from their current selves — make better decisions, like exercising and staying on the right side of the law. They tend to have better college grades, superior finances, and greater well-being.
Unlike Rodrigues, you don’t need a religious epiphany to make such a change. Hershfield is testing various techniques to allow us to engage with our future selves – including writing them letters and even talking to them in virtual reality – that could transform not only your relationship with yourself, but also your behavior in the…