Are you ready for mental time travel?


Typically, when faced with opportunities, we make predictions about what these futures will feel like. About how these will determine the content and the quality of our lives. Whether faced with a potential partner, a potential job or a potential move, we anticipate the experience as positive or negative and we anticipate the intensity of this experience.

Research demonstrates that our mental time travel (or affective forecasting) is generally accurate when it comes to our association with an event’s positive or negative feel. However, both the impact and the intensity of our positive or negative feeling is generally overestimated.

  • We neglect to account for coinciding events
  • We neglect to account for our adaptation in response to this future event
  • We overemphasise earlier “outlier” episodes
  • We overemphasise specific “outlier” moments within episodes

In their recent research article, Dane and George connect this so-called affective forecasting to work situations where we do not really have a choice in whether we will do the work or we do not. One could argue that if we cannot really influence the outcome our “mental time travel” would not really make a difference.

Instead, Dane and George find that is does make a difference: it is not whether but how we approach the work – our attitude. Indeed, our affective forecasting leads us to either have a promotion focus or a prevention focus. The former is concerned with advancement, achievement and ideals, while the latter is concerned with prudence and safety.

Through our affective forecasting, when…

  • we envision project success and make a positive affective forecast, one is likely to engage through a promotion focus;
  • we envision project failure and make a negative affective forecast, one is likely to engage through a prevention focus;

Our affective forecasting is influenced by the level of prestige we attribute to the organisation we work for, the strength of relationships in the teams we work in, and the level of creativity needed in completing the project (all these are linked to more promotion focus).

Question: how is your affective time travel influencing your work right now?

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