Have you ever heard the saying “Expect the unexpected”? Well, I’m here to tell you to throw that phrase out the window and start expecting the expected. That’s right, I said it. Expect the expected. Using your past experiences to predict the future can be a valuable tool in navigating through life. And as an added bonus, it can also make for some pretty humorous moments…


Predicting the Future: Mission Impossible?


I know what you’re thinking. “Predicting the future? That’s impossible!” And while I can’t promise you’ll become the next Nostradamus, I can tell you that predicting the future based on past experiences is more accurate than you may think. Sure, there may be the occasional curveball that throws you off, but for the most part, we tend to fall into patterns and habits that are predictable. And let’s face it, sometimes those patterns can be pretty hilarious. Just ask anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship.

The Relationship Factor


Speaking of relationships, they’re a perfect example of how past experiences can help us predict the future. I know a couple who, no matter how many times they go out to eat, always order the same thing. The wife always gets the chicken parmesan, and the husband always gets the steak. They’ve been doing this for years, and it’s become a running joke between them.

Another example is my own family. My mom always made the same dessert for every birthday: A 3-layered sponge cake infused with rum, covered with creamy frosting, and decorated with maraschino cherries. It was the same thing every year, and we loved it.

These are just a few examples of how our past experiences can predict our future behavior. The more we do something, the more likely we are to do it again. So, if you want to avoid disappointment and frustration, it’s important to be aware of your own patterns and habits.

Once you’re aware of your patterns, you can start to manage your expectations. If you know that your partner always orders the same thing at a restaurant, don’t be surprised when they do it again. And if you know that your family always has the same birthday cake, don’t be disappointed if they don’t change it up this year.


The Work Factor


Predicting the future doesn’t just apply to relationships, though. It can also be applied in the workplace. If we’ve had negative experiences in the past, we’re more likely to expect negative experiences in the future. And if we’ve had positive experiences, we’re more likely to expect positive experiences.

For example, if you’ve had a boss who was constantly micromanaging you, you’re more likely to expect that your next boss will be the same way. And if you’ve had a job where you were constantly stressed out and overworked, you’re more likely to expect that your next job will be the same way.

The good news is that our past experiences don’t have to dictate our future. We can choose to break the patterns and create new experiences. If you’ve had negative experiences in the past, you can choose to be more proactive in your job search and find a boss who is supportive and empowering. And if you’ve had stressful jobs in the past, you can choose to find a job that is more balanced and fulfilling.

By being aware of our past experiences and choosing to create new experiences, we can avoid disappointment and frustration in our work lives. We can also create a more positive and fulfilling future for ourselves.

Here are a few tips for breaking the patterns and creating new experiences in your work life:

  • Be proactive in your job search. Don’t just take the first job that comes along. Do your research and find a company that has a culture that you’re aligned with.
  • Be clear about your expectations. When you’re interviewing for a job, be clear about what you’re looking for in a boss and a company. This will help you to avoid ending up in a situation that is not a good fit for you.
  • Be willing to walk away. If you’re not happy with your job, don’t be afraid to walk away. There are plenty of other jobs out there, and you deserve to be happy in your work life.
  • Create a positive work environment for yourself. This could mean surrounding yourself with positive people, taking breaks throughout the day, or finding ways to de-stress.

The Travel Factor


As a keynote speaker, I travel to conferences all over the world. This means that I have to take into consideration the possibility that a flight might be delayed, that the airline might lose my luggage, or that I will have jet lag.

These are all things that can happen, and they can be frustrating and disappointing. However, if I’m prepared for them, I can avoid a lot of stress and disappointment.

Here is how I handle business travel to minimize my stress: 

  • I always arrive at least one day before the event to ensure that the unexpected doesn’t prevent my arrival.
  • I pack light and typically will get everything into a carryon so that I can take it on the plane with me.
  • If I’m traveling across time zones for a short time, I keep my routine based on time zone of origin so that I avoid jet lag. But when my travels are longer in duration, I arrive with even more time to adjust to the location before I take the stage. 

Here are a few tips you can use for dealing with the travel factor:

  • Be flexible. Things don’t always go according to plan when you’re traveling, so it’s important to be flexible. If your flight is delayed, don’t panic. Just try to relax and enjoy the extra time.
  • Be prepared. Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag in case your luggage is lost. And if you’re prone to jet lag, try to adjust your sleep schedule before you travel.
  • Be positive. It’s easy to get stressed out when things go wrong when you’re traveling. But if you stay positive, you’ll be more likely to handle the unexpected challenges.

When you boil it down, travel is about the unexpected. We are out of our routine, out of our comfort zone and we have nothing but a plan to go on. Everything else is out of our control, so the best thing to do is be prepared for the unexpected. 


The Power of Pattern Recognition


Humans are wired to recognize patterns. It’s a survival mechanism that has helped us predict future outcomes and avoid danger. Pattern recognition is a powerful tool that we use every day without even realizing it. From the moment we wake up in the morning, we follow a routine that we have developed over time. We have a pattern of behavior that helps us start the day off right. The same goes for our pets. We know how they greet us when we come home from work because we have recognized their pattern of behavior.

Recognizing patterns can also be helpful in predicting future outcomes. For example, if you have noticed that every time you eat a certain food, you get a stomach ache, you can predict that eating that food again will likely result in the same outcome. The same goes for work. If you have noticed that every time your boss assigns you a certain type of project, it goes smoothly, you can predict that future projects of that type will also go well.

Pattern recognition can also be useful in social situations. We recognize patterns of behavior in our friends and family members, and we use that information to predict their actions and reactions. For example, if you know that your friend always gets grumpy when they haven’t had their morning coffee, you can predict that they will be in a bad mood until they get their caffeine fix.

Avoiding Cognitive Biases


While relying on past experiences is a useful tool for predicting future outcomes, it’s important to be aware of cognitive biases that can distort our perception of the past. These biases can cloud our judgment and make it harder to accurately predict future events. One common cognitive bias is the availability heuristic, where we overestimate the frequency of events that are easily recalled in our memory. This can lead to false predictions based on rare or exceptional events, while ignoring more common occurrences.

Another cognitive bias that can affect our ability to predict the future is the confirmation bias, which is the tendency to seek out information that confirms our preexisting beliefs or expectations. This can lead us to selectively remember past events that fit our expectations, while ignoring those that don’t. For example, if we expect a certain team to win a sports game, we may only remember the positive aspects of their performance and overlook the negatives, even if they lost the game.

To avoid cognitive biases, it’s important to be aware of them and consciously make an effort to counteract them. This can involve actively seeking out diverse perspectives and information, challenging our own assumptions and beliefs, and being open to changing our opinions based on new evidence. By avoiding cognitive biases, we can improve our ability to accurately predict the future based on our past experiences.




Using past experiences to predict the future can be a valuable tool for making informed decisions in various areas of our lives, including relationships, work, and travel. When you pay attention to patterns in your past, you can develop a better understanding of what to expect in the future and make more informed choices.

However, it’s important to avoid the cognitive biases that can distort our perception of past events and lead us astray. Biases such as the availability heuristic or the confirmation bias can be particularly dangerous when trying to use past experiences to predict the future. Be aware of these biases and actively work to overcome them to increase your accuracy in predicting future outcomes.

Note: The power of pattern recognition is not limited to just our personal experiences. We can also learn from the experiences of others and apply those lessons to our own lives. Reading about other people’s experiences and seeking advice from those who have gone through similar situations can provide valuable insights and perspectives that we may not have considered on our own. That’s just smart.


Want me to speak to your organization about managing stress? Check out my keynote, “Make Stress Your Superpower.”


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Dr. Sharon Grossman, AKA the Burnout Doc, is a clinically trained psychologist and subject matter expert in burnout and mental health. Associations and Fortune 500 companies hire her to be their closing keynote speaker, to help their members and executives crack the code on burnout, and create custom-tailored solutions for recovery.
Over the past 20 years, Dr. Sharon has been helping high achievers who are struggling with anxiety, overwhelm, and burnout go from exhausted to extraordinary by better understanding how their brain works and how they can design and run their programming on purpose to live the kind of life they want to live. She is the author of several books on burnout and mindset and host of the Decode Your Burnout podcast. Through her speaking, training, and coaching, she helps organizations keep their top talent.