You are psychologically incapable of being able to predict what will make you happy.
You are neurologically incapable of constructing of a potential future that doesn’t use elements of experiences you’ve had before. This means that your ambitions and desires are likely a conglomeration of what other people had, did, and told you to do.
It’s not a reliable system.
Past memories create future potentials
When your brain tries to conceive of a potential future scenario, it relies on past experience and data that it’s collected.
This is why people are so often the products of what they were raised in. Their social norms, and furthermore, ideals, are pre-constructed and embedded. It’s the reason why people who were traumatized by a past experience often fear it repeating in the future, even if that old threat is no longer present. It’s the reason why children of absent parents often struggle with relationship patterns that mirror their abandonment. Their love maps are constructed to associate loss with love, because that’s what they’ve known.
Despite it being so incredibly persuasive in influencing your current and future choices, your memory is actually not very reliable. In fact, new science shows that a large percentage of childhood memories are really fabricated.
To retain a memory, the brain utilizes a variety of different functions. Mostly, memory imprints are made when strong emotions are experienced. The rest gets fuddled. You will only be able to recall small vignettes of your life, and less and less of them as time goes on. The pieces that you recall are a mixture of real experiences you had, but others will be colored, distorted, biased and misperceived.
Let’s say you had a few challenging experiences throughout a five year period in your life. Chances are, when you think back to that time, you are forgetting the good things that happened, as they are being eclipsed by the strongest emotional resonance. A sign that you’ve truly healed and moved on from an experience is when you’re able to think back to that time and see it both truth and complexity: the good and the bad.
Given that it is so difficult just to remember clearly, you can imagine how much more challenging it is to predict well.
Predictions are projections of past ideals
Most people don’t succeed at doing what they “love” because they do not know what they love. They know what they love the idea of, but when it comes to the actual day-to-day function, not so much.
These ideas are often deep in the subconscious. Let’s say at one point or another, you saw someone who was an entrepreneur, and associated that with great success. That emotion imprinted, and all of a sudden, your perception of true success is to be a business owner. Imagine your disappointment if you reach adulthood and find that your skills, nor your desires, really align with business ownership, but are perhaps more suited to another profession, like teaching, or writing.
What we imagine to be our best possible future is very often just what was the best possible outcome in the past.
This is especially true in the sense that the “best possible past outcomes” are usually just solutions to problems. If our past perception is colored by financial stress because of debt, our best possible future scenario is going to be being debt-free. Is that a great thing to strive for? Of course. Will it make you happy? Sure, to some degree. Is it actually going to make you truly happy? Probably not, because it’s only solution to a past problem, not an independent dream that’s really designed to fulfill you in an authentic way.
How to plan a life you will actually love
All that you can imagine for your life is what you’ve known before. Yes, even if your dream for the future is a big goal you’ve never previously achieved — it is still being informed by past experiences or stimuli.
In order to truly start to break out of this cycle, there are two questions you can start with:
- What outcome would be so good, you wouldn’t think to ask for it?
- What do you enjoy doing in real time? In your day-to-day life, what functions or activities really give you the most deep fulfillment?
By asking ourselves these two questions, we are doing two things: first, we are stretching the confines of our imaginations. Are we still, in some ways, limited to our past experiences? Of course. The neurology doesn’t change. However, what does shift is our perception. In recognizing that we do not know what we do not know, we can be open to new and different experiences, perhaps pulling from them insight, self-awareness, or realization.
If we can at least try to conceive of potential futures that are outside of what we have assumed in the past, we are already training our brains to think in different terms. When new opportunities are presented to us in real time, we can stop and wonder if, perhaps, they are more adequately suited to our desires, as opposed to older ideas we had about life that we never knew we needed to retire.
Once we have opened our minds to the idea that in life, the best possible outcome is the most common outcome, and there are outcomes so good, we cannot yet imagine them, we begin to ground ourselves into the present moment. What do you love, right now? What do you actually want to do each day? Forget what you love the idea of, forget what title you want to have, forget your childhood dreams. Focus solely on what actually brings you peace of mind, not inflation of ego.
When you begin to focus on and develop those skills, life will flow together more seamlessly. You will find that though you might not have been able to predict what you wanted, it somehow found you anyway.