Ask a 28-year-old if he is mature; he will likely say yes. At a certain point in life, we believe we have learned most of the essential lessons. One can imagine our personalities are formed, and our values are secure. They will endure.
Three psychologists published an important paper (describing six experimental studies employing psychological tests) focusing on our illusions regarding the degree to which time will reshape us.
For example, they asked 28-year-olds how much they believed they would change in the next ten years. In contrast, they asked a group aged 38 how much they had changed in the last decade. The groups were similar but for their ages.
When they compared the two, the first bunch predicted they would alter a modest amount. However, the older segment recognized they’d shifted more than expected in the identical period.
The experimenters looked at individuals between 18 and 68, obtaining the same results. The study included over 19,000 subjects.
Quidbach, Gilbert, and Wilson claimed this is an illusion to which humanity is subject. Indeed, they called their paper “The End of History Illusion.” We think of ourselves as fixed in place as we are, a more or less permanent version of the one who goes by our name. The big transformations in our life exist as a remembered past, so we think.
What does this tell us?
The strawberry ice cream you love today might be cast aside down the road.
More seriously, we can tap memory to capture the extent of previous modifications to our nature but ignore or forget such knowledge when considering the rest of the journey.
Given that the findings point to underestimating the metamorphosis over the horizon, they may result from not wishing to consider what the unknowable tomorrow might bring.
Fear of change applies to a segment of life experience for many of us.
Consider this as well. If you make unexpected changes in values, preferences, or personality, the same might be true of friends, lovers, or others. Such an idea anticipates a precarious existence without a clear path to make oneself ready for it.
If one expects the coming incarnation of each of us to be like the present (except for minor personal shifts), our plans shall be off the mark. But how can we do better when we lack a crystal ball?
Every human soul can try to control his behavior, education, and decisions for now, but not for the person he will become. The bucket list items of today need to be fulfilled while they still matter.
By the time you retire, you could be someone whose interests and tastes have traded places with those of the new guy, whoever he is.
Even so, humans are adaptable. They adjust to the prevailing conditions and move toward a set point — a built-in grade of life satisfaction. At a practical level, life’s ups diminish after their moment of buoyancy, while the downs hit the floor, and we usually bounce back to some approximation of where we started.
Though we underestimate the manner and scope of our change, we are created to last through whatever those differences amount to.
Since the image in the mirror, inside and out, won’t be the same for long, perhaps the best advice is this:
We are all in transit. Use the time to improve, repair the world, enjoy the moment, and make the most of it.
The authors of the paper mentioned in this essay were Jordi Quoidbach, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson. It was published in the January 4, 2013 edition of Science, Volume 339, Issue 6115.
Both of the above images are the work of Laura Hedien, with her kind permission: Laura Hedien Official Website. The first is the Chicago River, from the end of December 2022. The second is an Antarctic Sunset, photographed in November 2022.