Thinking about the future can be a source of both excitement and stress.
I’m currently making some big changes in my life and I’m experiencing the entire spectrum of emotions. Will things work out? Will I wish I’d made different choices? Probably. It’s impossible to know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Research shows that thinking about yourself in the future lights up the same parts of the brain as when you think about someone other than yourself. This suggests you don’t really consider your future self to be you. It’s a stranger that may or may not be the person you eventually become.
When you imagine yourself in the years to come, you probably think you’ll enjoy doing the same things you do now and that you’ll have identical values and beliefs. But are you the same person you were twenty years ago? If you changed in the last 20 years, why wouldn’t you continue to evolve in the next 20?
I think we would all agree that the development process slows as you age. Children seem to change from one minute to the next, while you might see only minimal differences in an adult from year to year.
It’s true that the speed of growth slows, but not as much as most people think. The tendency to believe you’ve experienced significant growth up until this point but won’t grow or mature substantially in the future is known as The End of History Illusion.
This comes partially because we find it much easier to remember the past than to imagine the future. We mistakenly believe that things that are hard to imagine are unlikely to happen. Being unable to imagine something shows an inability to imagine, not that it’s unlikely to happen.
Believing you’ll be this version of yourself for the rest of your life, is common. Research shows that at every age, people underestimate how much they’ll change in the years to come.
The choices I’m making now will impact my future. But there’s no guarantee I’m even going to want the future that I’m currently imagining for myself.
Squirreling away money every month from your paycheck so you can spend long days on the beach or golf course may not be something you’re interested in doing by the time you reach retirement.
Buying a big house for grandchildren who are yet to materialize or imagining a future crossing off the items on your current bucket list can be a mistake.
As you agonize over decisions, knowing they’ll affect your future, remember that your future self may not appreciate the sacrifices you’re making for them today. Rather than trying to please yourself in the future, live in the moment and cross things off your list today.
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly thing they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting, and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change, said Daniel Gilbert in his TED Talk, The Psychology of Your Future Self.
Finding happiness involves recognizing this truth. Regardless of what stage of life you’re in, you’re far from being the final version of you. That won’t happen until you take your last breaths. Once you grasp this idea, let go of believing that the person you are today can satisfy your future self.
Think of all the decisions you made when you were younger that you can only shake your head at. There’s no reason to believe things will be any different with your future and present self.
Change is inevitable. Making peace with this fact will have more impact on your life than meticulously planning your future, believing you know what will be best for a version of you that hasn’t even materialized yet.
As I step into this new phase of life, I’m consciously reminding myself of this fact.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.