In Tali Sharot’s book The Optimism Bias, she lays out her research supporting at least five conclusions I found interesting.

  1. We imagine the future as better than the past. For example, in one study 70% of people thought that families in general were less successful than in their parents’ generation, yet 76% were optimistic about their personal family’s future.
  2. We imagine the future based on our memory in order to construct flexible future scenarios. In fact, brain studies suggest that the purpose of our memory may in fact be to create our picture of the future. Certainly without this ability, we would not be able to prepare for difficult times or set goals.
  3. Our memories are often inaccurate. In a study of 911 memories, participants were inaccurate about 63% of the time.
  4. Our expectations can alter future reality. In one study, students performed better when given the message “you are smart.” Haven’t we known this for a long time?
  5. We see the “silver lining” in the bad stuff that happens, especially when connected to a clear choice we have made. When asked to decide between a broken leg or a broken arm, study participants quickly transitioned to a positive aspect of that choice.

What caught my eye is the direct impact on our work results and career futures. Three questions for you to consider.

  1. Do your messages about expectations for yourself state what you actually want to achieve?
  2. Are you using your brain’s natural ability to bounce back from setbacks, seeing the learning or possibilities from failure?
  3. Are you actively working your brain to imagine the best alternative futures?

Let me know what you think in a comment below.

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