Their prediction is just the beginning.
“Now give me your palm. My goodness. I’m not loving what I see in this middle line here. And this line below it is frightening as well. This line that runs vertically is giving me good signs. I always love it when I see good signs.”
“And then I pulled my hand away. ‘Are you going to tell me anything more specific, or are you just going to keep speaking in generalities?’ I said to her. I was getting pissed off at this point. Then she started reeling off some nonsense about my past, my present, and my future, all of which was complete bologna, so I argued with her to get my money back. After a few minutes, I decided to be the bigger person, and I left. Such a sham those fortune tellers.”
My friend Brock is a contentious guy. His blood boils as quickly as a pot of water. In the scene described above, Brock is telling me about the fortune teller he went to see and how he’s likely to never go back. It was a complete waste he told me. But I was curious still. I wanted to know why he thought the information the fortune teller shared was so dispensable.
What exactly was the nonsense about the past present and future she was describing? So, I asked Brock, and I listened to his responses. Bit by bit, I didn’t think the information was so bad at all. In fact, as he further explained what she was saying and what he was thinking, I think the fortune revealed more about Brock than he ever could have realized. I’ve never gotten my fortune read, but I have a strong feeling it says something more about all of us than we ever could imagine.
The Coin Flip Solution
Friederike Fabritis and Hans Hagemann describe in their work The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, and Happier that flipping a coin is a powerful way to make a decision. But not in the way we normally expect. Normally, we have two options. Option A is heads and Option B is tails. We flip the coin, and whichever side the coin lands on, we go with that option. But this is not the ideal way to make decisions. There is a better, more intuitive way that is more reflective of what the brain actually wants. There are two ways to do this.
In an article from Inc.com, “If you’re torn between two choices of seemingly equal merit, flip a coin. If you’re satisfied or relieved by the decision the coin made for you, then go with it. On the other hand, if the result of the coin toss leaves you uneasy and even makes you wonder why you used a coin toss to decide such an important decision in the first place, then go with the other choice instead. Your “gut feeling” alerted you to the right decision.”
Alternatively, a study from researchers in Switzerland documented a similar process. They told participants that one side of the coin would allow them to take a job at a more prestigious firm with higher pay and longer hours, and the other side would be at a less prestigious firm with lower pay and more flexible hours. The coin was then flipped into the air, but then it was never revealed which side it landed on. Research participants were then asked to decide which choice their subconscious brain wanted more while the coin was in the air. This choice revealed their underlying desire.
While the flipping of the coin acted as the only catalyst for decision making in this study, a second study was performed in Switzerland. In it, researchers suggested choices rather than having participants flip coins. It was clear that when certain menu items were suggested to participants, very strong opinions and ultimate decisions were made that either leaned toward or strongly away from the recommended item. Whether the recommendation led to a positive or negative response didn’t quite matter. What mattered was the fact that people became much more decisive.
This phenomenon is known as flipism. When it comes to the case of getting your fortune told, Brock, and the fortune teller, the fortune teller served as Brock’s catalyst for his opinions about what she was saying about his life. In other words, whether the fortune teller was right or wrong, she was able to spark enough inside Brock to make significant conclusions about where he was, is, and was going.
Owning the Past
After pressing him to tell me more about his experience, Brock told me about the hogwash he believed the fortune teller was spewing at him. He said that she made a strikingly general statement about how he had suffered from pain and wretched behavior in his past. This was true. Brock’s parents split when he was younger, and he lashed out as a teenager by abusing drugs and alcohol. This led to some decisions he shouldn’t have made and a life he didn’t want to live.
There’s a psychological concept called priming in which exposure to one stimulus influences how a person responds to a subsequent, related stimulus. Stimuli are often images, words, sentences, or stories. In the case of a fortune teller, her stories — or generalities according to Brock — serve as the priming agent for the emotional response that triggered him. The emotional response to me was about accepting his past.
After receiving the news about there being some pain and trouble in his past, Brock brought up to me the life he used to live in high school and college. He took ownership of the fact that he made some bad decisions and he was sorry for them. In his book, Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink describes the importance of owning your actions by outlining life as a Navy SEAL. SEALs have to be 100% accountable 100% of the time, or else it could lead to death. Your team needs to know exactly who you were in your past in order to experience maximum trust. On an individual level, owning the past will help you experience a better present.
Escaping the Present
Brock informed me that when the fortune teller moved on to the present, she was totally off the mark. She used his palm to explain the curve was on an upward trajectory, meaning that he was no longer stuck in his life. She specified that this had something to do with his career.
Again, this generalization as the primer, Brock practically exploded at this assertion. “You know I hate my job, but we both know it’s only temporary. I felt like she was lying when she said I was no longer stuck. It sort of gave me false hope.” He seemed a bit defeated.
But false hope doesn’t necessarily have to be bad according to an article from the Good Men Project. In fact, false hope is better than no hope at all, and it can also motivate an individual to latch on to something and work harder to pursue whatever it is they were hoping for. In this case, I think Brock’s desire to get unstuck in his career was triggered by the seemingly false hope the fortune teller instilled.
Longing for a Different Future
Brock concluded his rant about the fortune teller by insisting that her assessment of his future was a totally wild and off-base claim that he would never consider pursuing. But it was still a prediction that hit him at his very core. He was able to quickly brush it off and consider it nonsense because he knew it wasn’t what he wanted. Because it was so outlandish, and even the opposite of what he ultimately wants, he decided to argue and ask for his money back. The final primer that elicited such an emotional response from him.
According to Andy Tix, a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota, there is a German concept called Sehnsucht. Sehnsucht is an intense yearning for something more. It’s a desire to achieve a sense of unimaginable fulfillment in one’s future. It’s rooted in thoughtful wishing as opposed to wishful thinking.
The fortune-teller suggested that although he was currently trending up, his life would level off. He’d remain unfulfilled. Brock wants the opposite of that, thinking it’s only a matter of time before he’s able to break through and do something big in his life. Brock has a sense of Sehnsucht that the fortune teller missed, and this infuriated him, leading to vengeful promises that he would make something of himself and prove her wrong.
Why Fortune Telling Works
You’re either going to love your fortune, or you’re going to hate it. You’ll believe it to be true and wish it to be true, or you’ll think the exact opposite with a burning passion like Brock. You’ll actively work to make the prediction happen or work as hard as possible not to. But no matter what the fortune teller tells you, it reveals something noteworthy about your ultimate desires.
Fortune tellers are often bad-mouthed because it’s expected that they promise to be right. But nobody fires the weatherman for being wrong all the time. That’s because the weather is unpredictable. As are our futures. The purpose of a fortune teller is not to tell you your exact path. Just as she did with Brock, the fortune teller is there to guide your emotions in a direction that most suits how you already intuitively feel. And once you realize that, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming the person you were always meant to become.