At some time or another, we have all felt like we’re stuck in a rut. No matter what we try or what we do, everything around us stays the same. Even worse, when we try to change, we end up feeling like the same old person. No amount of New Year’s resolutions, self-help books, or community groups can make us feel different.
I certainly can relate to feeling stuck. Deciding to be a stay-at-home mom these past 18 months has meant my days have melded into one long string of diaper changes, laundry, reading board books, and singing the same songs over and over again. Sure, I attend play dates and library story hour, but time still runs together. Although on most days I genuinely enjoy spending so much time with my daughter, there are days when I wonder: is the world outside passing me by while I remain locked in just one role? Have I become a static person?
Harvard psychologist Daniel T. Gilbert would tell me no, of course not. He and his colleagues have researched over 19,000 people ages 18 to 68 and discovered what they call the “end of history illusion.” This phenomenon states that, on one hand, we easily recognize that we have changed greatly from our past selves. I don’t know of a single person, for example, who feels that they have stayed the exact same since their high school days. On the flip side, we grossly underestimate how much we will change in the future. We expect our tastes, preferences, and just about everything to remain the same, which turns out, of course, not to be true. We are as likely to change between the ages of 19 and 29, for example, as we are between ages 39 and 49.
Why don’t we think we will change in the future? Both Gilbert and other psychologists have theories. Believing that we have reached the peak of our potential right now makes us feel good, for one. Or maybe it’s just easier to see change in the past than in the future. One researcher even labels it a “failure of imagination,” being able to break our self-image of who we are today.
In any case, the “end of history illusion” holds some profound implications. The first is that, even when we can’t feel it, we are changing. For me personally, even though the last 18 months have gone by in a steady blur, I can now readily see how things have changed. I went from being a completely “newbie” mom to having experience dealing with several situations. I don’t miss my “pre-baby” life as much as in the beginning. My relationship with my daughter and husband has also changed even in such a short time frame.
So while it is easy to project forward to the next 18 months and see the “same old” me, I wonder. I wonder how much more I will change as a mother. Past that, I’m also a writer and have been scribbling away at a few personal projects. Even if I don’t publish anything, how will those experiences change me? And then if I imagine 5 years, or even 10, the possibilities continue to grow. I no longer feel stuck, but I relish all the things I can do in the next decade. My experiences will change me to the point where I will laugh at my silly fears back when my daughter was so young.
So take heart. Even if you don’t realize it, you are a constantly changing person. While it’s true that big changes – a new job, a new romantic relationship, or a new lifestyle – will have a big effect on your future, the little things count too. What you do day-in, day-out today will mold you into something else later. Those little experiences add up enough over time that your future self may not even be able to recognize you.
Whenever you feel stuck, remember: we are actually more likely to change than we are to stay the same. Break the “end of history illusion,” and don’t ever believe you will remain static. Embrace the possibilities, throw away doubt, and widen your imagination to the very real future of an ever changing you.