Yogi Berra quipped “If you don’t know where you’re going, you end up somewhere else.” That’s a good argument for having a plan whether it’s for your career or your next vacation. Fundamental to your plan is imagining your future and, it turns out, we’re not very good at that.
In Dan Gilbert’s TED talk titled “The psychology of your future self,” he makes the point that we’re not very good at looking ahead. In fact, today’s decisions become tomorrow’s regrets – he cites tattoos, marriages and the stuff we fill our homes with only to get rid of when we downsize in the future.
He says we commonly think that the person we are now is the person we’ll always be and surveyed thousands of people to test this idea. They asked 18 to 58 year olds how much they thought their values and personalities would change over the next 10 years and then asked 28 to 68 year olds how much their values had changed over the last 10 years. The tendency was to vastly underestimate how much change they would experience over their next 10 years.
People also underestimated how much their preferences would change. For example, they assumed that their choice of friends or vacation destinations would be the same in 10 years while those who looked back over the last 10 years said “not so much”.
So what? Well, it affects our decision making. Because we don’t think our preferences will change, we over invest in our current likes. Knowing what we like today is easier than imagining what we’ll like in the future so we stick with what we know.
According to Dan “The bottom line is, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences. It reshapes our values. It alters our personalities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect.” In fact, we’re a work in progress. I’ll admit that at every stage of my life I’ve felt like I’d figured it out only to look back to see that I hadn’t. Tomorrow’s reality will be quite different from today’s. Once we realize that, the challenge is imagining the future and planning for it.
If we can’t easily project what our values, personalities and preferences will be like in 10 years, we can at least prepare to support our future selves in basic ways. A sound financial plan gives us choices as we develop new preferences – the choice to change jobs, to relocate, to start a family – while taking care of our health, both body and soul, gives us the strength to change course as needed.
Be prepared because there’s a good chance you’ll end up somewhere else!