Affective forecasting

Affective forecasting is predicting how you will feel in the future.

Not surprisingly, we’re terrible at it.

Knowing how productive you’re likely to be in the future is a key part of time management. This is equally relevant for both you and your team.

Yet few of us think that way at all.

We believe our productivity, motivation, and focus will stay pretty much steady throughout the day.

But our bodies and minds go through natural ebbs and flows of energy throughout the day. Not to mention all the external things that can cause us to lose energy and become unmotivated.

Researchers had long examined the idea of making predictions about the future, cognitively speaking. But psychologists Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert investigated the idea further.

They looked into whether a person can estimate their future feelings.

Moreover, they found that people misjudge what will make them happy and have trouble seeing through the filter of the present.

affective forecasting Wilson and Gilbert
The course of expected levels of emotion and actual levels of emotion, from Wilson et al (2003)

They also discovered that how people feel in the moment blinds them.

Unfortunately, people cannot accurately take into account how they might feel in the future.

Instead, they tend to overestimate how positive or negative they would feel about future situations.

The most common forms of affective forecasting

Projection bias

This is the tendency to project one’s current preferences in the future. However, what one wants now may not be the same later. A person’s momentary emotional state has a lot of influence over their future selves.

Impact bias

This is where we overestimate the emotional impact of a future event. One cause of the impact bias is focalism. This is the tendency to underestimate the extent to which other events will influence our thoughts and feelings.

False consensus

People overestimate how much other people will think like them, agree with them, or have the same values. People also overrate their own likability.

Temporal or time discounting

There might certain expectations linked to your performance right now, but they might be vaguer 8 months from now.

The timing of marketing campaigns is a good example. If you roll out a campaign quickly, will that campaign make a real business impact or just meeting your OKRs?

Unfortunately, affective forecasting is prone to error, which can lead to decisional regret.

As a result, that’s why behavioral economics research has focused on understanding and improving affective forecasting. This is to help people make decisions more effectively.

In the end, it all boils down to your own expectations.

Do you expect more positive emotions or more negative emotions?

Does your expectations usually come true?

The most significant part of affective forecasting is how it impacts our happiness. Because it influences our decision-making.


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