You look back and realize you’ve changed over the years but when you look forward you don’t think you’ll change much.
Research shows you perpetually think that the current moment is the culmination of everything that came before and now you’re beyond making the errors of yesterday. But, of course, that’s not true.
When we remember our past selves, they seem quite different. We know how much our personalities and tastes have changed over the years. But when we look ahead, somehow we expect ourselves to stay the same, a team of psychologists said Thursday, describing research they conducted of people’s self-perceptions…
“Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin,” said one of the authors, Daniel T. Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard. “What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”
Why might we be inclined to do this?
“Believing that we just reached the peak of our personal evolution makes us feel good,” Dr. Quoidbach said. “The ‘I wish that I knew then what I know now’ experience might give us a sense of satisfaction and meaning, whereas realizing how transient our preferences and values are might lead us to doubt every decision and generate anxiety.”
You don’t think you’re going to change. And that makes you confident in our judgments. It also make you feel good because change is stressful.
So you’re naturally conservative and lazy. Research shows that you don’t usually do what really brings you joy or makes you an expert — you do what is easy.
“Why would we spend four times more time doing something that has less than half the chance of making us feel good?” The answer is that we are drawn—powerfully, magnetically—to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia. Active leisure is more enjoyable, but it almost always requires more initial effort—getting the bike out of the garage, driving to the museum, tuning the guitar, and so on.
The thing is, as the Gilbert study shows, change is going to happen, one way or the other.
You can embrace change, and make your life better, or act like it doesn’t exist and cross your fingers that it turns out well. Why don’t you take the bull by the horns? Fear of failure is one of the most powerful feelings.
In a surprising 2008 study, researchers at the University of Bath, UK, found that the fear of failure drives consumers far more than the promise of success; the latter oddly tends to paralyze us, while the former spurs us on (and pries open our wallets). In fact, as the study found, the most powerful persuader of all was giving consumers a glimpse of some future “feared self.”
You know what the funny thing is? It’s never as bad as you think. Really.
How long do you feel lousy after bad things happen? Not nearly as long as you’d guess. You anticipate regret will be much more painful than it actually is. Studies show you consistently overestimate how regret affects you.
In Eric Ries’ acclaimed bestseller The Lean Startup he makes it clear that little bets, or “experiments”, are critical to moving a business forward in a safe fashion:
…if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.
This isn’t just true for companies — it’s true for you. Getting it wrong helps you get it right. Making mistakes is vital to improvement.
…error is not simply a phase you have to suffer through on the way to genius. Error often creates a path that leads you out of your comfortable assumptions… Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.
No, you probably won’t be the person you expect to be. But that’s a good thing. You can be better.
You’re going to look back and chuckle at the mistakes you made no matter what. So make those mistakes great ones. Ones that you learn from and grow from.
You don’t want to be the person you expect to be. Because you don’t think you’re going to change. But change is good. And, as for me, the most disappointing thing I can imagine is looking back and seeing that my life hasn’t changed one bit.
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