Beijing time on September 1st, according tomedia reports, in the current period, people during the outbreak of the “new normal” has been a lot of discussion. I don’t know what it’s going to be like one day when we get back to our busy office or go to the gym and cinema. Some say they can’t imagine doing these things, let either dancing in crowded bars or hugging and kissing their friends.
But are we good at guessing how we’re going to feel in the future? The answer is: “Not very good at it.” “This means that we don’t always make the best decisions about our lives.
When we predict how we feel about our future, we naturally refer to past experiences. It’s a good approach, but we tend to focus on recalling recent experiences. For example, when we imagine travelling by train next year, we don’t focus on the hundreds of trains we’ve taken over the past few years, but we can’t help but think back to the last time we took a train. If the last time you took the train, the passengers were all wearing masks and looking nervous, and we couldn’t help but think about the future travel, even if we didn’t know how long the mask would last.
We subconsciously focus on our current feelings. When chronic headache sufferers describe the extent of their pain, their description is more likely to be influenced by the degree of pain the day before. When we think about events, our cognitive processes tend to be extreme, i.e. more focused on “first time” and “most recently”. This phenomenon is called “influence bias”. It also leads us to tend to focus on the main characteristics of the event. For example, if we were going to lunch in a country pub, we might imagine ourselves sitting in a beautiful garden, basking in the warm sun and enjoying delicious food. By contrast, it’s unlikely that we’ll imagine the process of going to the pub, the experience of looking for empty tables outside, the irritability of eating food like hunger, and the possibility of traffic jams on the way home.
If, in our expectations, a future event is positive, we tend to focus on the good ones, and if it’s negative, we can’t help thinking about the bad ones. For example, we always find the whole process of going to the dentist painful, but in reality, talking to the receptionist, hanging up your coat, or walking out of the clinic is neutral, and the most painful moments may last only a little while. You can see it from a positive perspective, which means things aren’t as bad as we expected, but maybe not so good.
However, “influence bias” may lead us to make the wrong decisions. We might think that a well-paid new job would change our lives. If the job doesn’t bother you with money ant-day, it’s a possibility that your friends will come to congratulate you. But if you don’t worry about spending money, enjoy your current job, and have a good relationship with your co-workers, changing jobs may not be the best option. To take the step of changing jobs, you have to make sure that the more of this income can be used to make you happier.
We also tend to overestimate the emotional intensity of our future. In one study, some college students were asked to predict how they would feel if their school’s team won or lost the next game. A few days later, when asked again, they all said they overestimated their joy after the team’s win or disappointment after the loss. That’s because there are other things that happen on game day that can have a positive or negative impact on their emotions.
But in the same experiment, if the researchers asked subjects to describe what a normal day in their lives would look like before making predictions, their predictions would be more accurate.
This can happen even when it’s a far more extreme event than eating noodles and winning games. We also overestimate the extent of our joy or sadness at important events that are life-changing. For example, even those who buy lottery tickets and win jackpots don’t always celebrate with champagne, test drive sports cars, or take all their friends on vacation. People who are unfortunately disabled in an accident will not always be in shock and bemoan the great changes in their lives.
Whether it’s winning a lottery or an accident, when people imagine both, they usually focus on the shock that happens when it happens, and default that these feelings will last forever. But people forget that they are constantly adapting and adjusting. Whether you feel happy or desperate when things first happen, these feelings fade with time.
Overall, that’s a good thing. Just as we have a physiological immune system, the mental immune system protects us. It leads us to pay more attention to extreme situations and helps us make the right decisions to keep ourselves safe. But remember, it also allows us to learn to adapt, even if things don’t go as expected, we can stick to it.
For most of the events that happen in life, we get used to them much faster than we might think. For example, after a pay rise, your joy will not fade utensced.
How can we make the right decisions now that we are more likely to focus on extreme, first-time, or recent experiences, and that prevents us from accurately predicting how we will feel in the future?
Ask people who have had this experience about their views, or ask those around you what they think of the choices you face. Because when thinking about other people’s choices, we tend to take a longer view. But be sure to ask the right questions. Don’t ask, “Should I take this new job?” Instead, I ask, “What do you think of my daily life if I take the job?” “
One study, for example, found a link between long commutes and poorer mental health, especially among married women. If you move farther away from where you work in order to change your big house, you may have an empty room. But the room is used only once in a while, and the pain of commuting is experienced every day. And if you talk to your friends first, they might point that out.
We’ve been through a lot of “firsts” lately. We might go back to the office, maybe we might fly. Psychological research tells us that the first experience is always the strangest, especially in the first 10 minutes. But humans have an extraordinary ability to adapt, and we will soon adapt to these new ways of life. When we go through it for the second time, we won’t be surprised.