The only thing constant in life is change — but somehow we don’t think that applies to us?

At a fantastic New Year’s Day party, I talked to another guest about how smart we were in college, how our 20-year-old selves had it all figured out.

Then we laughed, making affectionate fun of the cockiness of youth and the perspective we now have that our youthful selves had oh so much to learn.

But here’s the thing: apparently we humans are just as irrationally cocky no matter our age.

The New York Times ran an article earlier this week headlined, “Why You Won’t Be the Person You Expect to Be.” Reporting on new research out in the journal Science,  John Tierney wrote:

When we remember our past selves, they seem quite different. We know how much our personalities and tastes have changed over the years. But when we look ahead, somehow we expect ourselves to stay the same, a team of psychologists said Thursday, describing research they conducted of people’s self-perceptions.

They called this phenomenon the “end of history illusion,” in which people tend to “underestimate how much they will change in the future.” According to their research, which involved more than 19,000 people ages 18 to 68, the illusion persists from teenage years into retirement.

“Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin,” said one of the authors, Daniel T. Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard. “What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”

This seems like the perfect insight with which to kick off my fifth year of a blog about change and living life intentionally.

Even if we’re comfy cozy with things just as they are, the world doesn’t hold still — the dynamic on your job is evolving, your spouse’s needs are shifting, your kids are getting older, your aging body feels different, new neighbors might move in, your pet might get sick. So even if today was the best day of your entire life, you can savor it but you can’t cryogenically preserve it.

I recently read a great analogy: think of all the external influences of your life as a rushing river, and you’re in it. You can hold on to a branch for dear life, trying to stay put in the same spot in the river, or you can float with the current, avoiding rocks and swimming as needed. You don’t know where it’ll deposit you, but you can choose your path along the way.

A couple of years ago, John and I were talking a lot about wanting to find a “forever home.” We wanted to move one last time and put down deep roots for the rest of our lives. We wrestled with where that should be, what kind of house, what kind of community.

Then a wise friend, Kim Curtin, released the pressure. She said it’s impossible to see into the future and predict what future you will want. What will your financial situation be, what work will you be doing, what will your health be, what hobbies will you be passionate about? That’s all unknown. So instead, she said, do what feels right now and adjust as needed.

I still love the idea of planting ourselves someplace that suits us perfectly. But I carry with me that perspective that I don’t know what I’ll need most at 50 or 70. I haven’t met that Colleen yet.

If you’re a subscriber to Science, you can read the full research paper here.

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  1. You’d like to reinvent yourself — but how? « Newvine Growing
  2. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: #3, The law of karma – Newvine Growing

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