Are you good at predicting the future?
What if I told you that you are not. At least when it comes to predicting your feelings.
Predictions we make about how we are going to feel in future situations is defined as affective forecasting.
And despite how much we think we know about ourselves, evidence suggests that we are terrible affective forecasters.
But that is actually a good thing.
Research has found that the actual experience of the things we fear most are a lot less scary than how we imagine them.
Malcolm Gladwell discusses this topic in his new book David and Goliath, where he tells a story of the London Blitz in World War II.
The German Air Force launched a massive air offensive against London that lasted 8 months, including 57 consecutive nights of devastating bombings. Millions of neighborhoods were destroyed
Gladwell quotes author J.T. MacCurdy who wrote, in his book The Structure of Morale, that when the bombs fell it divided people into three categories. First were those who died. Second he calls near misses. These people survived, but were horrified by the damage and were left in shock. Third he calls remote misses. These people are just the opposite of the near miss group. They survived and were not left in shock, rather they were left with a feeling of invincibility.
When we think of being involved in a bombing, most of us feel we will be left in shock. But that isn’t always the case. Often just the opposite happens. And that is a powerful feeling.
MacCurdy says, “We are all of us not merely liable to fear, we are also prone to be afraid of being afraid, and the conquering of fear produces exhilaration…When we have been afraid that we may panic in an air-raid, and, when it has happened, we have exhibited to others nothing but a calm exterior and now we are safe, the contrast between the previous apprehension and the present relief and feeling of security promotes a self-confidence that is the very father and mother of courage.”
I don’t know about you, but I am often afraid of being afraid.
I was nervous when I was scheduled to do the first book reading of my new book. I do not love public speaking. I was afraid I would not do well, and even worse, I was scared the kids would hate my story. On the day of the reading I even considered call in sick and getting out of it. I predicted a very negative outcome.
I did not call in sick and boy am I glad I did not.
The reading went well and the kids enjoyed the book. But more importantly, I learned that my prediction of a negative experience was way off.
Not only was it a very positive experience but it left me wanting to do it again.
MacCurdy and Gladwell would say that through this experience, I gained courage.
As MacCurdy said, the contrast between the previous apprehension and the present relief is how we grow courage.
Gladwell explains this further and says, “Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”
So next time you are predicting a negative outcome in a future situation, just remember that you are bad at predicting the future.