Futuristic fitness: the advantages of often thinking about the “unimaginable”

the pandemic it was in the calculations of very few people before it was unleashed. In the forecast yearbook of The Economist As of December 2019, the word “Covid” did not even appear, which would take center stage a few months later. Nor was the term “Ukraine” included in the English magazine’s special last December, nor were other “black swans”, that is, events of global and massive impact, but extremely difficult to forecast in advance.

There is one person who, ten years before it happened, glimpsed the pandemic future in incredible detail not once, but twice. In 2008 and 2010, Jane McGonigal, video game design expert, futurist and popularizer, put together a massive simulation with thousands of participants, first for the Palo Alto Institute for the Future, an institution of which he is a part and which was the first to take the science of foresight seriously in 1968. The second was for the World Bank. In both initiatives many trends were anticipated that were later verified with the actual pandemic. People agreed to deprive themselves of going out in quarantine for almost everything except for religious services and weddings (which were sources of massive contagion in many countries). The lack of classes mainly affected women who left their jobs in greater proportion. And there was a “fatigue” in the use of masks and other measures of care as the weeks of isolation passed.

There was two main news with these experiences: a good and a bad.

The good news was that those who participated were better prepared for what happened; they adapted faster and suffered less stress from the changes. The bad: the lessons did not reach the great decision makers (government officials and agencies that were in charge of strategies in the pandemic), which caused many mistakes to be made that could have been avoided.

McGonigal’s field of discipline, the futures design It is not new, but it grew and gained prominence in the last half decade, and that was not by chance. The world became much more unpredictable, with complexity several orders of magnitude higher. The “reality variance” became much higher, as futurist Matt Clifford argues.

In its best seller about the topic, Imaginable (Penguin, 2022), McGonigal begins by giving welcome “an era of unimaginable events and unforeseen changes.” He says that in the years 2020 and 2021 alone, there were two and a half million stories in English-language newspapers around the world that contained the word unimaginable (unimaginable), and more than three million texts with the word unthinkable (unthinkable).

It is that, simply, we are not used to thinking about the future, says the author. In her talks and seminars, the video game designer asks the audience “when does the future begin” (she refers to a moment of considerable change), and there is usually little agreement on the answers. There are anxious people who say “tomorrow” or “in the short term”. At the other extreme are those who answer “in 20 or 30 years”: they think in generational terms, which is not very useful and actionable, because it leaves the weight of change on demographic evolution, as a kind of unchangeable destiny.

The most useful time frame for thinking deeply about the future, says McGonigal, is 10 years. If one goes back one can see that it is a period where structural transformations really take place.

McGonigal participated in neuroscience studies where participants are invited to think in detail and depth about their future in 10 years, in an experience called “Episodic Future Thinking” (EFT). In hard mental work, involving more areas of the brain than are used when we think about the future more abstractly. “It’s almost like watching a movie in your head,” she describes.

The process, when it becomes regular, causes “memories” to be created that can be as solid as those of the past, and that they can help prevent future trauma, in addition to lowering stress and the risk of depression. It is a very useful tool for navigating the “senior revolution” in the second half of life: keeping a diary with an imaginary day in our 10, 20 or 30 years helps us to empathize with our “future self” and improve the quality of life. life in adulthood. This lack of empathy with ourselves several years older is also one of the main sources of prejudice and negative stigmatization about adulthood. “Regularly practicing episodic future thinking is highly correlated with good mental health: those who do it are more optimistic, motivated and feel more in control of their future,” says McGonigal in his recently published book.

Futures design has many challenges ahead, and not everything is rosy. For Alejandro Repetto, engineer, certified member of the IFTF, many companies and organizations were left with the fireworks of the workshopin which there is a tendency to be spectacular, with a focus on highly improbable “black swans” with few actionable ones. “They throw out a mega-crazy idea, very speculative, and miss out on opportunities that go ‘the middle way,’ maybe more boring but more actionable because there are tools to navigate it. Everything makes more sense when several scenarios are combined at the same time, some less strident than others”, Repetto tells LA NACION.

Ximena Díaz Alarcón, who also works on futures design with several organizations, agrees with Repetto that the challenge is for this issue to enter the matrix of real decisions of the companies, and exit the “workshop innovation annual.

“The most interesting thing in this field is happening in the field of collective thought, in communities and with game formats,” says Díaz Alarcón, from Youniversal. the other is make it a habit in a process often called “fitness of the future”: thinking in detail in a 10-year context maybe not every day, but regularly.

McGonigal believes this topic is so important that even It should be taught in colleges and universities. It is a way that sooner rather than later “the tab falls on us” that there is no return to normality. That port that we await, perhaps different but with calmer waters, will not arrive, but rather the waves of change (for better and for worse) will be higher and higher.

As the English philosopher Alan Watts said: “The only way to find any meaning in change is to get into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Futuristic fitness: the advantages of often thinking about the “unimaginable”