I’ve noticed a Thing about myself, that’s probably a Thing about everyone’s self (because I ain’t special) – it’s that I shed my previous selves rather thoroughly and as it were callously, while thinking of my current self as the real self. I sometimes notice myself doing this and realize that my current self will be shed just as ruthlessly in the future, and I laugh a little.

NPR confirms that it is indeed a Thing about everyone’s self.

No matter how old people are, they seem to believe that who they are today is essentially who they’ll be tomorrow.

That’s according to fresh research that suggests that people generally fail to appreciate how much their personality and values will change in the years ahead — even though they recognize that they have changed in the past.

That is how it works. Looking back you know that it’s past, it’s stale, it’s been replaced. Looking forward you see nothing, because it’s not there yet. You’re perched on the front edge of the locomotive; everything behind you is the known behind-you, while what’s up ahead is…up ahead. The correct self is always the current self.

Daniel Gilbert, a psychology researcher at Harvard University who did this study with two colleagues, says that he’s no exception to this rule.

“I have this deep sense that although I will physically age — I’ll have even less hair than I do and probably a few more pounds — that by and large the core of me, my identity, my values, my personality, my deepest preferences, are not going to change from here on out,” says Gilbert, who is 55.

He realized that this feeling was kind of odd, given that he knows he’s changed in the past. He wondered if this feeling was an illusion, and if it was one that other people shared: “Is it really the case that we all think that development is a process that’s brought us to this particular moment in time, but now we’re pretty much done?”

It is an illusion, like an optical illusion. (That is, that’s what it feels like to me. Gilbert is the one who did the research, not me.) It’s an illusion born of the fact that the past is behind and known while the future is ahead and unknown.

Gilbert says he doesn’t yet know why people have what he and his colleagues call the “end of history illusion.”

One possibility is that it’s just really, really hard to imagine a different, future version of yourself. Or maybe people just like themselves the way they are now, and don’t like the idea of some unknown change to come.

That fits too. It’s odd…when I said I shed my previous selves as it were callously, I had in mind a kind of contempt I have for my previous selves – for being so clueless compared to my new and improved self now. It’s hilarious, really…we must all be Dale Carnegies, assuming every day in every way we get better and better.

Just think how marvelous I will be tomorrow!

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