Our Puny Human Brains Are Terrible At Thinking About The Future

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Your brain does something weird when you imagine yourself in the future. FMRI scans reveal that your brain "stops acting as if you’re thinking about yourself," writes Jane McGonigal in Slate. "Instead, it starts acting as if you’re thinking about a completely different person... your brain acts as if your future self is someone you don’t know very well and, frankly, someone you don’t care about."

Jane is my friend and colleague at Institute for the Future (IFTF), where we encourage people to think deeply, broadly, and creatively about their future selves. IFTF recently conducted the first major survey of future thinking in the United States, and the findings were surprising:

The survey found 53 percent of Americans say they rarely or never think about the “far future,” or something that might happen 30 years from today. Twenty-one percent report imagining this future less than once a year, while the largest group of respondents, 32 percent, say it never crosses their mind at all.

Likewise, 36 percent of Americans say they rarely or never think about something they might personally do 10 years from now. The largest group of respondents, 19 percent, think about this 10-year future less than once a year, while another 17 percent say they never think about it at all.

If you'd like to get better at thinking about the future (so you can make better decisions today on how to shape it), Jane has tip:

Make a list of things that you’re interested in — things like food, travel, cars, the city you live in, shoes, dogs, music, real estate. Then, at least once a week, do a google search for “the future of” one of the things on your list. Read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a video — and get some specific ideas of what the future of something you care about might be like.

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