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Think You Can Predict Your Emotions? Think Again!

by Beth on January 26th, 2012

Human beings are future-oriented. Our ability to think about and plan for the future is what makes us unique. In thinking about the future we often set goals because we believe achieving them will increase our happiness.

But we need to be careful! It turns out that we are not very good at predicting our future emotions. Often we are wrong about how achieving a goal will ultimately make us feel.

In his book, Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching, Robert Biswas-Diener mentions three errors that prevent us from accurately predicting how we will feel in the future:

1)    duration neglect – we over- or underestimate how long the feeling will last.

2)    impact bias – we over- or underestimate the intensity of the emotion, expecting that we will feel much better or much worse than we really will.

3)    valence prediction – in novel situations we sometimes we expect something will make us feel good, when in fact it will make us feel bad or vice-versa.

We have all experienced this. You might have thought you would feel unbelievably happy when you finally graduated. Or that it would be the end of the world if you didn’t get that job. But in the end you didn’t feel all that different. Or maybe something you thought would be scary turned out to be fun.

The question is, what can we do with this knowledge? When making decisions it could help to know that the emotional impact of an event is likely to be less intense than you expect and that the misery or excitement you anticipate probably won’t last as long as you think. This might be especially helpful when you have to make a decision about something you don’t want to do, like undergoing a medical treatment.

And when you are thinking about trying something new you should talk to someone who has done the activity before. This might help you to think twice before doing something you will regret or it could give you encouragement when you are nervous about doing something.

So the next time you are planning something for the future, remember that your expectations might be bigger than reality.

From → Emotions, Goals

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