What do you think you'll be like 10 years from now?
Maybe you'll have a different job or live in a different town, but you'll still be the same old you, right? With the same basic personality, political views, values, best friends, and favorite activities?
Probably not. According to a new study published Thursday in the journal Science, people of all ages are terrible at predicting how much they'll change over the course of a decade -- and that affects how well they make big decisions about their futures.
"I have to tell you that never in my wildest dreams when I had a long ponytail and was hitchhiking around the country and playing my guitar did it occur to me that my greatest joy would be sitting next to the love of my life, eating dinner on a TV tray, and watching 'Jeopardy!' " Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard University and a co-author of the study, told The Boston Globe. "But now I'm the guy who does that."
Gilbert and his team surveyed thousands of people and found that, in general, we're all pretty bad at predicting how much we'll change over the course of a decade -- and we tend to make bad decisions based on our own misconceptions.
"We measured the personalities, values, and preferences of more than 19,000 people who ranged in age from 18 to 68 and asked them to report how much they had changed in the past decade and/or to predict how much they would change in the next decade," they wrote in their report. "Young people, middle-aged people, and older people all believed they had changed a lot in the past but would change relatively little in the future."
"People, it seems, regard the present as a watershed moment at which they have finally become the person they will be for the rest of their lives," they explained. "This 'end of history illusion' had practical consequences, leading people to overpay for future opportunities to indulge their current preferences."
Subjects were asked to complete a personality assessment, answering questions as they think they would have 10 years ago or as they think they would 10 years in the future. Researchers compared the answers to those given by people in the next age group. So, a 28-year-old woman's predictions about herself 10 years in the future would be compared to reports by 38-year-old participants about how much they had changed since age 28.
Sounds confusing? It is. But the basic point is this: The 38-year-olds had changed a lot more than they thought they would have. Which means that the 28-year-old respondents had underestimated what was in store for them a decade down the road.
Such behavior can affect our ability to make good long-term decisions, like quitting school or marrying young or moving to another country, since we're making them based on how we are now and not on what we'll be like in the future.
So how can you make sure you make the right decisions? Gathering plenty of information can help -- and finding out what other people have done in similar circumstances can help even more.
In other words, Gilbert says, look to people 10 years older than you -- and follow their lead.
Also on Shine:
Rethinking Your Career Choice
4 Steps to Making Smarter Decisions
Are You Satisfied With The Way Your Life Has Turned Out?