27th Nov, 2023

The End-of-History illusion

I recently watched a video by Niklas Steenfatt1 where he briefly mentioned the End-of-History illusion. I never heard of it before, but it hits right home for me. Here's what it is:

The end-of-history illusion is a psychological illusion in which individuals of all ages believe that they have experienced significant personal growth and changes in tastes up to the present moment, but will not substantially grow or mature in the future.

This illusion says that people are able to see significant changes they made in hindsight, but fail to predict that these changes can continue in the future. People therefor believe that they are "done" now and will not continue to change much in the future.

I fall prey to this illusion a lot. If I look back five years from now, I was 27 years old, was living in my own apartment for the first time and was going through the hardest breakup of my life. I hadn't met my (now) wife yet, my salary was less than half what I make now and I had no clue where to go with my life (spoiler: that's still true, I just have a few more ideas of what I do not want to do with it).
That's a lot for just five years2. And yet, I cannot imagine that in five years from now, changes of the same magnitude could be possible in my life. It's strange.

They authors of the study behind the illusion have an idea of why that is the case: The brain is lazy. It's easier to reconstruct what has happened than to construct what might happen. It's borderline impossible to do so. I could not have imagined half of the things that happened during the past five years, five years ago. So the brain chooses not to do it.


  1. It's in German, but I suggest you watch it if you can. It somewhat relates to what I wrote about goals in the beginning of the year.

  2. In fact, when I tried to come up with where I was five years ago, I ended up 4 years ago and was only able to correct myself because I looked at some old pictures of the time.

© 2024 Chris Jarling