Humans have an incredible capacity for “mental time travel.”
We can look back into our past, by recollecting memories and past experiences, or we can look forward into our future, by projecting new and possible events in our lives.
Foresight is our ability to accurately predict future outcomes. It is a long-term, “bigger picture” view of how certain events will unfold over a period of time – and how we can act to influence certain outcomes in our lives.
According to a 2006 study published in Neuropsychology, both past and future thinking activate many of the same regions of the brain. Researchers say this confirms the idea that our memories and past experiences play an important role in imagining future events.
This is because we use our past experiences as a way to learn general rules or guidelines on how the world really works. We then take these guidelines and use them to predict future events.
If something continues to happen the exact same way over and over and over again, we can then believe (with a fair degree of certainty) that the event will unfold in the same way in the future.
Of course, we are not always right. The future is filled with uncertainty and we don’t know everything. And very often we find our predictions to be wrong.
However, just because our foresight isn’t perfect doesn’t mean we don’t have an important need for it.
A 2007 study published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences gives an in-depth evolutionary explanation for why foresight has played such a crucial role in adapting our environment in an effective way.
By looking into the future and having an idea of how future events may unfold, and we can better plan and coordinate our actions to prepare for those events.
When we save money for a vacation or an emergency, we are using foresight. When we study for an exam before being tested, we are using foresight. And when we rehearse for a presentation, we are using foresight.
Foresight is future-directed behavior. We aren’t just concerned with what’s happening in the present moment, but we have a long-term view of future wants and needs, and an idea of how to get there.
This is an important skill for succeeding in any part of life. Those who have the best foresight have the best preparation and thus the best results.
5 Key Ways to Build Foresight
Here are 5 key things to do if you want to build more accurate and effective foresight in your everyday life.
Gain knowledge. The more knowledge you have about a subject, the easier it’ll be to find common patterns and themes within that subject. Read books, articles, and scientific studies to gain as much knowledge as possible about a thing (see how to become an expert at anything for more information).
Build experience. Direct hands-on experience delivers a kind of knowledge and insight that can’t be found in articles or books. Try to find ways to actively expose yourself to new things and actually build a broad range of experiences to learn from and draw upon when applying foresight (see how to improve your intuition for more information).
Both of these pursuits will improve your memory and past experiences. And, as we know from the study I mentioned earlier, this plays an important role in being able to project patterns into the future.
Think hypothetically. Play out “thought experiments” in your mind. Ask yourself the possible causes and effects of certain situations that you don’t necessarily know the answer to. Think to yourself, “Is this logical or possible?” Use your knowledge above to help you.
Make small predictions. Practice making small and low risk predictions just to test out your foresight. Do you have a hunch that a particular investment is a good one? Then just put a little in it and see how it works out before investing more. Ideally, the more knowledge and experience you have in something, the more comfortable you should be in using foresight. But don’t fall into the “illusory superiority” trap by being overly confident in things you don’t really know much about (you need to be as honest with yourself as possible).
Play devil’s advocate. Always be willing to test our your assumptions with a critical eye. Try to search for situations where you may be wrong, or the “rule” or “guideline” you have in mind doesn’t work. This can help you sharpen your thinking and discover different factors that may be influencing a situation which you didn’t previously take into account.
See Yourself in the Future
It’s important to success and happiness to have some idea and plan for the future. The better our foresight is, the more we can act accordingly today so that we find ourselves better off tomorrow.
But how often do you really look into your own future? Do you have any idea where you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Any long-term goals, aspirations, or passions?
Where would you theoretically want to be in 5 or 10 years if you had a choice? What types of things do you need to start doing to get there?
Discover more tools to daily growth in the digital guide The Science of Self Improvement