If I asked you to describe the last 10 years of your life in a few words, what are some adjectives you might use?
In 2013, Science Magazine ran a study asking this question to 19,000 people. The most common adjective for every age group was “tumultuous” meaning lots of changes including ups and downs. Not surprising right? That's life in general.
The follow up question “what do you see for the next 10 years?” however, resulted in a very different overall response. Most people responded that they did not anticipate change to be near as high as their past 10 years.
How can this be?
If you think of your life as a staircase with each step representing a year of your life, these responses make a lot of sense.
When you look behind you, you can see the past 10 years of your life, but it is difficult to imagine the steps ahead of you because you can not see them.
What happens is that we confuse the probability of change with the picture-ability of change!
When I got dumped by my first girlfriend at the age of 18, I certainly couldn’t picture ever dating again. I couldn’t picture the future which meant I assumed it would never happen. Replace my example with any other situation that affected you deeply (lost job etc) and I am certain you had this picture-ability problem.
Just because you can’t picture the future, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
This is what is know as the “end of history” illusion.
It isn’t strictly in our own personalities and preferences that we can not imagine change but also in other areas such as technology, etc. When trains first starting transporting people, many believed it would never replace horses. Then a century later, it was the same view with cars, computers etc.
Similar to technology, you shouldn’t think of yourself as a finished product. Most of us think our preferences and personalities won’t change much in the future. The end of history illusion through its studies proves this to be false.
Ways to address the end of history illusion
1. Don’t make assumptions about what will make you happy in the future! We consistently err in predicting what will make us happy downstream.
2. Its better to rely on data of what people in different stages of their life have consistently stated about what makes them happy (example – if you were going to get a tattoo, talk to someone who has had one for 10 years and preferably older than you)
Your capacity for change is a lot higher than you believe.
Just ask your past self!
Have a great weekend, Karl
"The future ain’t what it used to be." Yogi Berra