I love posts like this. The New York Times' John Tierney reports on a study published in Science that people tend to “underestimate how much they will change in the future.” Says one of the authors of the study, Daniel T. Gilbert, “Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin. 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.”
Yep. That sounds about right.
I've long recognized this - and my own fallibility in the process. In fact, there is a very quick exercise I do with clients from time to time. It goes like this:
I don't know if we could get through the day if we were constantly thinking about how little we know.
Let's say she's 36 years old. I'll say to her, "What did you know at 31?" She'll invariably say, "Wow. That was like a lifetime ago. I've been through so much since then. A new job. A new house. A serious relationship. Yeah, I really know much more now at age 36." And I'll say, "What did you know at 26?" And she'll laugh, and say, "Oh my god, I was such an idiot at 26". And I'll say, "Did you think you were an idiot at the time?" And she'll say, "No. I thought I knew everything." Not my best dialogue, but you get the point.
As the article indicates, people seemed to be much better at recalling their former selves than at imagining how much they would change in the future.
Why? Dr. Gilbert and his collaborators, Jordi Quoidbach of Harvard and Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia, had a few theories, starting with the well-documented tendency of people to overestimate their own wonderfulness.
“Believing that we just reached the peak of our personal evolution makes us feel good,” Dr. Quoidbach said.
It's true. I don't know if we could get through the day if we were constantly thinking about how little we know, how we're all works-in-progress, how in five years, we'll have so much more life experience to inform our decision-making. Five years ago, I wasn't even married. Now I have a house, two kids, and a business that is considerably bigger than the one from 2008. Was I confident in 2008? Yes. Do I know a lot more now? Hells yeah.