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A couple of weeks ago, I received an email.


It was from myself, having sent it precisely a year before, packed full of predictions for the coming year:

  • learn to do a backflip (90% likely)
  • still living in Cambridge, UK (75%)
  • England to win the football world cup (5%)
  • (...)
I wrote it to see how my view of the future would compare with how events actually turn out. The results showed me a lot about how we see the future, so I'm sharing them with the community here :)


[Note on the experiment: I made 59 predictions for the year, and used each of FutureMe.org, OhLife and another website to schedule an email to be sent to me on 2015 Mar-01. I tried - and was successful - at forgetting the predictions so that they would be a surprise and so that they would not alter my behaviour throughout the year. The main trick for forgetting was to do all of the predictions in one evening, and to avoid thinking about it for a few days afterwards. I used three websites to send the email in case one or more failed to do its job. FutureMe.org was the only one to actually email me on the correct day, so I'm glad I took the precaution. OhLife emailed me on Nov 28th when they closed down, so I just had to avoid reading that email until March 2015.]


On average the predictions were reasonable. Out of 8 items I'd considered to be 40% likely, 3 happened (38%). Out of 12 things at 60%, 5 happened (42%). Both things at 85% did happen.


However, my view for the future was clearly a lot more exciting and action-packed than my predictions! I didn't realise it at the time, but if my predictions had been accurate, I'd hardly have had time to catch my breath amongst everything else. To simulate this, I took some random numbers and interpreted these to determine what would happen in an example year - and got the following:


[Note on the implementation: a website gave me 59 numbers between 0 and 100, and for each item on the checklist, if the percentage probability was greater than the random number, then I considered that it happened. Otherwise it didn't. In some cases, the item must have happened or not happened based on other items (e.g. if I've changed career clearly I've changed jobs; if I can't lift 50kg on the overhead press, clearly I can't lift 50kg) and so I used that logic rather than the corresponsing random number.]

  • still doing weightlifting and football
  • changed career completely and bought a house
  • composed more piano music, and went to another metal concert
  • entered the Mental Calculation World Cup 2014
  • travelled to 2 new countries
  • had an active love life
  • learned to front handspring, to backflip and to handstand
  • (more minor things)
Imagine how much effort it would take for all of that happen in a single year! 2014 was a good year for me, but not quite this busy!


Why were my predictions like this? I think there are several connected reasons:


[a] We tend to make predictions - and plans - in isolation. Yes, if I made it a priority I could compose a metal/guitar composition, but then I'd be prioritising something else less. Maybe I'd be doing less gymnastics. Yes, I could've decided to change career, but after all the thinking and applying and admin and stuff and indecision, I wouldn't have as much energy for learning to drive or going travelling.


I find that the same thing often happens in NF challenges - I choose several goals that would be reasonable if they were the only thing being worked on, but forget that when we have 5 goals like this, there just isn't enough motivation available to do everything :tongue:


One year is a long time! I've just Googled it, and there are various quotes to the effect that "you overestimate what you can do in a year, but underestimate what you can do in ten years".


[c] I am overconfident. The items in my list that I assigned the most exaggerated probabilities to were the ones that would have caused me the most pride, for example achieving various gymnastic and strength goals.


It's sobering to see this overconfidence illustrated so vividly, but it's actually something I value quite highly. It's so much easier to motivate yourself to do difficult things if you have an unreasonably high confidence in them. Taken to the extreme, you become simply deluded with limited ability to make useful plans. But in moderation, it can significantly help your progress towards your goals. Furthermore, you have more fun in the process if you believe you're always on the cusp of greatness :) (If you're an underconfident reader, it's worth working on increasing your expectations of the future for this reason)



So how will all this change my outlook of the future? I'll still have the same optimistic viewpoint, but I'll remember to act as if life will change less quickly than I expect. And that means that if I want anything to change, it requires me to be proactive about that change, because I can't rely on the random fluctuations of life to bring about those changes for me.

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Level 25 Cyborg Assassin

[ STR 36.75 | DEX 26.00 | STA 28.00 | CON 31.25 | WIS 29.25 | CHA 24.50 ]

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Wow! I think a lot of people, including myself, think about "the future", but you're the first person I know that has taken the time to write it down and try to guess so specifically. It looks like a very interesting experiment to do.

I like a lot this self-discovery you've obtained from it. Yes, we do plans isolately and never think about what else is on the way...

About your overconfidence, I've always thought of it as a very good quality. As you say, it can fool yourself, but well managed is a thing we all should cultivate. Anyway, I don't think you were being overconfident here, I think better that you didn't get much thought to the time you needed to accomplish things. I mean, an overconfident person would have thought of goals out of his reach or of an extreme difficulty, which I don't think is the case here. I think they are achievable by themselves; what I see is someone that thought of reasonable goals but who didn't think about the time, as you say in the previous conclusions. You say you decided all this in an afternoon, so you obviously didn't take the time to adequately calculate the time. I think that has more to do with not achieving the goals than any other thing.


Proactive change... That is a good lesson to learn!!!


What an experiment! I like it a lot! :)

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The Wolverine - Level 5 // BER  6.5 // HEA  4 // STR  4.4 // STA  3 // DEX  4 // CON  4 // WIS  4.75 // CHA  1

He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty.

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That's actually a really neat idea.  I think I might look into it a bit more but I think ultimately I'm far too much of a pessimistic realist to plan that far ahead. 


I can only commit a day at a time and go from there.  But I like the idea of getting an e-mail from myself a year ago predicting how my life will change.  I suspect I'll be at the same job, hopefully driving the same vehicle but in a new house, and I'd like to think I'll still be slogging away at Crossfit.  Hmmm.

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