Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Today’s decisions – ten years from now

At every stage of our lives we make decisions that will profoundly influence the people that we become. Then when we become these people we are not always happy with the decisions we made. Why do we make decisions that our future selves regret?

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says that we have a fundamental misconception about the power of time. The rate of change slows over the life span. The rate of change slows as we age, but at every age people underestimate the rate of change they will be experiencing in the upcoming ten years. This applies to personality, values, and preferences.

They asked people how their values had changed in the last ten years and how much they would change in the upcoming ten years. People underestimated the rate of change they would experience in the upcoming ten years, no matter how old they were. Change does slow down with age, but not as much as we think.

This is also called the “End of History Illusion” because humans believe that now is the end of their history in the sense that from now on they will be the person they are right now. We reported on this in an earlier post.

It matters because it bedevils our decision making. We overpay for the opportunity to indulge our current preferences in the future. And why is this so? Dan Gilbert reasons that maybe it is because remembering what one used to be like is easy, but imagining what one will be like in the future is very hard. He concludes by saying that the person you are right now is as transient as the person you have ever been. The only constant in life is change.

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