Our Inability to Imagine a Different Future

I’m a (very) new father.  My wife and I have been going through the first week with our new daughter, and one thing this has really brought home is that it’s incredibly tough to envision a future that’s different from the present.  In the case of newborns, they change very quickly.  Here’s a short timeline (not just from our experience, this is received wisdom):

Day 1:  Your baby is totally exhausted and very mellow.  They’re easy to soothe and low-maintenance.

Day 2:  Your baby starts to recover and starts to get very interested in feeding — if you’re breast-feeding, they may “cluster feed” like once an hour on night two.

Day 3:  The tiredness of birth is pretty worn out.  If you’re breast-feeding, the baby is starting to get super-hungry, because you haven’t yet produced your milk, so they’re essentially starving (babies lose about 10% of their birth weight).  They’re understandably cranky.

Day 4:  Your milk comes in and the baby is now adapting to a totally different feeding experience, which changes their entire pattern of being — different sleep schedule, different moods, different everything.  Baby may be confused about the new experience.

…And so forth.  All of this plus or minus, given to individual variation and so forth.

The point is, we knew this.  We’d read it over and over again, attended classes and done everything we could to prepare ourselves for it.  And yet, at the height of baby crankiness in Day 3, we found ourselves writing a desperate email to our doulas asking essentially whether the baby would ever not be crying.  And then Day 4 came and suddenly everything was different.

It’s really, really hard, when you’re immersed in some status quo, to imagine a different future.  We have a strong tendency to just extrapolate the present into the future.

If it’s this hard to see one day in the future after many classes explaining to us that every day would be different, and in what way they’d be different, how much harder is it for us to, say, understand that the world is more slowly, more imperceptibly changing over years, and to look to the future, not the past?  For example, how many people got stuck for years in 9/11/2001, believing against all evidence that constant terrorist attacks were our reality?


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