Predictions: Everyday Fortune-Tellers

Turns out we can get better at predicting our future.

By Colin Weatherby, published on September 3, 2012 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The human brain is fine-tuned for many things, but predicting our own behavior is not one of them. Attempts at foresight can be clouded by the tendency to see ourselves too optimistically, but beating the odds is easier than you might think. To get in touch with your inner Nostradamus, try one of these strategies:

Ask a Friend

Our powers of prediction are 30 percent more accurate when guessing the future work performance of others rather than our own, reports a recent study in The Journal of Social Psychology. Why? We base predictions about peers on hard evidence but brush aside our own previous failures as aberrations—even when someone else would clearly spot a pattern. Asking an outside party for input can help keep the rosy view of our own abilities in check.

Keep it Real

It's especially challenging to imagine how we'll react in a hypothetical situation. For best results, limit your attempts at fortune-telling to more concrete scenarios. When psychologists at Yale University asked two groups to predict self-performance in a scavenger hunt, people in the group that thought the game was hypothetical dramatically overestimated their abilities, while the group that prepared as if it were real made guesses that were much closer to the mark.

Check Your Optimism

We like to imagine that things will work out in our favor, which makes it difficult to accurately analyze evidence. Study participants predict that the winning card is likelier to be drawn from a deck even when they know that the losing card appears with equal frequency. Casinos count on this bias, dubbed the "wishful thinking effect." But if you can separate the facts from your best hopes, your next prediction could be a winner.