The idea of wanting something is a state that thrusts us into an unsure future. How? Because we think that what we want is going to make us happy when we get it.
It’s the ‘grass is always greener’ effect. We believe it will somehow make our lives easier, better, freer or much more valuable. This emotional process is known as Affective Forecasting.
Affective Forecasting is a concept from Behavioral Economics. It is how we all engage with our everyday lives without ever being fully present.
From waking up in the morning to rushing to get the kids to school to make our way patiently through a disorganized flurry of traffic – our lives slip into a condition of behaviors.
We all tend to refer to this as ‘survival mode’. We do without thinking. We let our environment guide us and our reactions. We become powerless victims of the world outside of us.
Affective Forecasting occurs when we experience an event — like trying out a new grocery store for our weekly shop, and while we are collecting all of our culinary necessities, we end our trip at the cashier stand only to be met with someone who has had a bad day and is taking it out on all of your fellow shoppers.
You reluctantly unload your items one by one, and mumble out the words, “Hello!” with a weakened smile. The cashier unloads her awful, no-good, very bad day, and you just want to cringe inside as everyone else around you looks on.
So, every time you pass that store, a pit in your stomach knots and you drive faster past the store. That one experience has framed how you see that store, but not only that one, any franchised brand connected to that one. You have been conditioned.
We engage in affective forecasting to help us manage our expectations, encourage us to look forward to the good things, and push us to “plan for the worst,” even while anticipating the best scenario.
We willingly avoid certain circumstances because we have trained our amygdala (the fear center in our brains) to fear some experiences over others.
Research has been done with Olympic gold winners who, years down the line, were not really as excited as they anticipated when they won the gold medal. Other than the in-the-moment fame, the act of winning really didn’t change their lives as they expected.
Affective forecasting is ultimately something we do every single day, especially when we are on auto-pilot. We are not metacognitively involved in the living of our own lives.
We react to a circumstance based on a past reaction. It can be a great outcome, and we would assume that the next experience will be as equally positive. When we live our lives as affective forecasters, we give up our agency. We are not free, and we can do something about it.
Being present in our society is a skill. This skill can be enhanced through routine practices. Meditation can help us be more present and less guide by past experiences. Meditation is not tied to any religious ideology, it is a practice that even science is just catching up with.
Maria Camara, PhD, a Spanish psychologist and mindfulness expert, shares her views on the science of meditation…(S)he says that meditation trains the mind to stop grasping at issues; instead, it learns to accept and let go.
That’s precisely the idea behind mindfulness: remaining anchored in the present and allowing distracting thoughts to enter and leave the mind without clinging to or rejecting them .
Living in the present does not seem to be our evolutionary default. Our habits of looking to the future were more about our skittish ancestors seeking out practical ways to survive.
However, we do not have the equally mammoth-sized animals chasing us down. Our body does not know the difference. We have to train it to calm down.
The skill of meditation can free us from the habit of giving our emotions full control of how we react to our environment. Meditation, with many other helpful routines, can literally bring us into the life of the present – which is where we are whether we think about the past or the future anyhow.
Participate in your own liberation by living in the now today.