Sensible Snack: The Psychology of Your Future Self

Sensible Snacks are bite sized nuggets of information to help feed your wallet and nourish your mind.

This week I want to pass along a short TED Talk by Dan Gilbert, psychologist and author of several books. Most notably he is the author of one of my favorite psychology books, “Stumbling on Happiness“.

I recall buying this book about a decade ago in a search for ways to get over the heartbreak of my college relationship. I’ll spare you the details but just know she was crazy and I was a completely thoughtful gentleman.

Not so sensible.

I knew time was one of the ingredients needed to lessen the sting of the memories, but I was surprised to learn that in all likelihood I was misremembering key tenets of the relationship.

It turns out another ingredient was simply my perception of the relationship after it ended. In his book, Dr. Gilbert argues that we consistently overestimate or conflate the feelings we had in the past (I’ve heard this called the peak-end phenomenon in other studies), and in his TED Talk, he describes how we underestimate the changes that are likely to occur to us in the future.

Your values, personalities, and interests will change more than you think over the next 10 years, and the next 10, and the next 10.

The consequences of this are important because of the suffering that will ensue if we slip into repetitive complacency. The things we regret, the ways we spend our time, the height at which we set our future goals – are all influenced by our perception of forthcoming change and what’s possible for us. Finally, and perhaps most important to remember, is the current version of our self is basically a rough draft until the day we die.

“The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been.”

Dan Gilbert, The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling And Start Living

The main takeaway from this video and the book for me is that the past is never what it seems and any version of the future is just as likely as the next. So why not place less emphasis on our memories (which are deficient, at best) and more emphasis on this moment and the things we can do to move in the direction of our wildest dreams? (Which, even at their wildest, may still be too tame. Except for this guy.)

And of course, once we remove these fallacies from our field of view, it is easier to see that all aspects of our lives can be improved from the plans we have this weekend, to the plans we make for our relationships, education and career.

Whether you want to learn more about investing, want to to break a bad habit or start a healthy one, or simply want to learn more about the inner workings of your own mind, a single action today can be the reason you hardly recognize yourself next year. So can a COVID beard, but you won’t regret this one in 10 years.

Old doors will seem not worth walking through anymore. New doors that you can’t even see right now will unlock. Friends you’ve known your whole life will surprise you. Friends you haven’t even met yet will fill your free time. Career paths will branch in unknown directions. Challenges that previously caused you anxiety will invigorate you.

Change is coming. Work towards it instead of against it.


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