We all think about how different we used to be in the past. That is, memories from childhood, high-school or college. We realize how much of our personalities have changed ever since and attribute it to something vague, “life”. However, in the near future, we don’t expect ourselves to change.
Many new research along the lines of self-perceptions of past and the future suggests that people greatly underestimate how they will or need to change to become the person they expect to be.
Think about it this way, are you more comfortable talking about your past or projecting the future? The research calls this phenomenon the “end of history illusion“. Research included approximately 19,000 subjects from ages 18-68 and found that the phenomenon exists from teenage years into retirement.
When asked about their personality traits and preferences including hobbies, favorite meals and entertainment preferences in the past, present and then compare it to the future – younger people reported greater change than the older generation.
The research collaborators from Harvard and University of Virginia, started with a few theories to test including the likelihood of people to overestimate their own accomplishments. Dr. Quoidbach explains, “Believing that we just reached the peak of our personal evolution makes us feel good. The ‘I wish that I knew then what I know now’ experience might give a sense of satisfaction and meaning, whereas realizing how transiet our preferences and values are might lead us to doubt every decision and generate anxiety.”
Another explanation is that human brain dislikes uncertainty. A separate research found that installing an inexpensive timer for next arrival at each bus stop increased customer satisfaction by a whopping 140% – more so than investing millions in increasing the bus’s speed. Thus, our brains are naturally wired to subconsciously avoid such times that require mental energy. “People may confuse the difficulty of imaging personal change with unlikelihood of change itself” the authors wrote in their research.
One of the greatest downside of the “end of history allusion” is that it makes us vulnerable to decisions that we regret in the near future. Decision about getting a tattoo, personal, and drugs which happen to mostly occur during teenage years. During teenage years, the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the center of reasoning and decision making, is still underdevelopment when it is disturbed by hormones. Thus, there is no doubt that the teenage years are the time of rolling emotions and bad judgement.
The “end of history illusion” effect suggests a potential failure in personal imagination for each of us. We often share deeply rooted memories about our past but then make vague projections of the near future.
When you were a child did you not think you would hold onto your barbie doll or action figure forever? They will be your toy forever? Our brains are hard wired in a way which favors continuity in our thoughts. It tends to project the future based on previous memories and experiences regardless of their nature. Consciously knowing the weaknesses of our brains to project the person we expect to be, how would you make sure to not let these weaknesses come in the way of who you dream to be?