The End of History Illusion: Why You’ll Change More Than You Think

For those of you who crave constants in life, here’s a bit of good news: You will always look back at yourself as you were a few years ago, and think that you were kind of silly, and you will always think that the “present you” will persist into the future. Oh, and one more thing: You will always be wrong.

It’s a phenomenon that psychologists are calling the End of History Illusion, and it’s the basis for recent research examining self-perception.

“Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin,” said one of the study authors, Daniel T. Gilbert, in an interview with the New York Times. “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.”

The study examined the personality traits and personal preferences of 19,000 people ages 18 to 68. What it discovered was that — aged 16 or 60 — we tend to predict that our next ten years will be less eventful than they actually will be. In the study, for example, a 20-year-old woman predicted less change in her next ten years than a 30-year-old woman reported in her previous decade.

So why the discrepancy?

“Believing that we just reached the peak of our personal evolution makes us feel good,” Dr. Jordi Quoidbach said, in the same interview. “The ‘I wish that I knew then what I know now’ experience might give us a sense of satisfaction and meaning, whereas realizing how transient our preferences and values are might lead us to doubt every decision and generate anxiety.”

All the same, it’s sort of inspiring to know that — no matter how old we are — our biggest changes might be just ahead.

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