We should not give up and we should not allow the problem to defeat us.
-A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
The Problem With Imagination
In a study done about 30 years ago participants were asked which countries were most similar to each other. Salam and Napal or East Germany and West Gemany. Most participants picked East Germany and West Germany. When participants were asked to pick which two countries were the most dis-similar participants picked East Germany and West Germany once again.
How can one pair of countries be both similar and dis-similar to each other?
When people are asked to look for the difference between the similarities of two things they tend to look for similarities and ignore the absence of similarities. When asked to look for dis-similarities they would often look for the presence of dis-similarities and ignore the similarities.
How Imagination Tricks Us
In our own lives we like to imagine that whenever we make a decision we weigh both the pros and the cons of that decision. However, studies have shown that the way our brain works is if we are selecting something to buy we often look for the pros more than the cons. We like to think “How would this product or service benefit me?”. Often times we do not weigh both the pros and the cons. We often instead consider mostly the pros and very little of the cons and we don’t even know we are doing it.
Similarly, when we are returning something or removing something from our lives we often look at the cons significantly more than the pros. Since we are not pushing something out of our life we now think “How would this product or service not benefit me?”. The correct, logical way of thinking for both situations is to consider both the pros and the cons of both situations in order to make a fair assessment.
This problem has nothing to do with intelligence or our logical thinking. It has everything to do with our imagination. Imagination is how we make decisions, and balance the pros and cons of each situation. We often use imagination as a sort of simulator for future events.
Why Things Are Not ‘What They Seem’
It is important to realize that this simulator is wrong, often more times than not. We often tend to misconstrue the details of future events and look at things in a negative or positive light without even considering the other side of the situation. This means that our prediction of future events actually depends a lot upon our current state of mind. This is the reason why future events are ‘never what they seem to be’.
In Stumbling on Happiness Daniel Gilbert asked people how they would feel after two years after the death of their eldest child. Of course, most people answered the question in some form of answer such as; “I would be totally devastated”. “I be extremely upset”, “I would not be able to sleep”. Often times, people automatically imagine standing over a coffin looking down, or looking into an empty bedroom, or looking at past pictures and reminiscing about old times.
These people imagine such morbid images while remaining blind to the full truth of the situation. That, not every part of your life would be bad because your eldest child died. People remain blind to an entire objective side of a situation while only focusing on one side. They don’t think about the extra time they may have with their spouse, writing or reading a new book. Or having the extra time to ride a bike on a warm summer day.
Of course, I am not suggesting that the death of a child is something to be celebrated but what I am suggesting is that something good can come out of any situation. Every episode of life is filled with both positive and negative emotions no matter what situation it is. People tend to imagine only one side of the coin and they miss out on a whole other part of the experience.
A study in the University of Virginia were asked how they would feel a few days after their schools football team won or lost an upcoming game. Before answering the question, one group of students were asked to describe a typical day in their lives while the other group was not. After the game, the students were asked to describe how they actually felt.
The group of students who were not asked to imagine a typical day in their lives vastly overestimated how they would feel once the game was over. This is because when they imagined the scenario they tended to leave out many details. They failed to imagine that after the team lost they could still go to the bar and get drunk. They could still go back to their room and play Mario Kart. Or spend a weekend out with their friends. They were only focused on the outcome of the game and left out many significant details of their daily lives.
The students who were asked to imagine a typical day were much more accurate when they had described their feelings after the football game. That’s because these students were forced to imagine the other details after the game and were thus, less upset or happy if their team lost or won because they had a more accurate view of the entire situation..
The key point I want you to take away from this post is that you cannot trust your future projection of events. They are never fully correct. When we imagine someone with a debilitating disease, disabled or handicapped we can’t help but imagine all the things they won’t be able to do, yet fail to imagine all the things that they still could do. A person who is in a wheel chair still does many of the same things we do. They still pay their taxes, they can still taste the sweetness of a chocolate cake, they still laugh as we laugh. So when a life changing event does occur it is never the case that it is all bad. This has a lot to do with your Retecular Activiation System, and how positive of a person you are in general. Always try to look for both the pros and the cons in any given situation.
Have a great day!
Did you learn anything new in this post? How has your imagination misconstrued your future events? Please let me know in the comments below!