How to (Accurately) Predict the Future

How to (Accurately) Predict the Future

Human beings live a linear existence. We travel in one direction through time — from the past, through the present, toward the future.

So conventional wisdom says that the future is impossible to predict. Its says the future is unknowable because it’s not here yet.

Conventional wisdom is wrong.

It turns out we can predict the future — it’s only a question of to what degree. And as soon as we understand how, we can do it with increasing accuracy. In fact, by the end of this article, you’ll make a prediction about your own future — and if you read this article carefully, it will come true. To accurately predict the future, only two things are required:
  1. Accurate information, and
  2. Predictability of all the variables.
The reason it’s so hard to predict the future is that a) we rarely understand all the details involved, and b) too many unexpected things can affect our prediction. The good news is this: Both of those can be improved — we can a) gather more details and b) anticipate the unexpected. And if we do that, we can predict the future.


A prediction is a statement of expectation that something will happen in the future. Here are four basic types of predictions:
  1. The Safe prediction. A safe prediction is one that has very little chance of being wrong — usually because the event being predicted has happened before, or because no reasonable variables can impact the prediction. Example: “The sun will rise tomorrow.”
  2. The Trend prediction. Here, the prediction focuses on the momentum of the thing being predicted. It's usually based on evidence that indicates a statistical probability. The person making the prediction assumes they're reading the information and trends correctly. Example: “We will cure cancer within two decades.”
  3. The Basic prediction. This kind of prediction focuses on a detailed event or situation. It says “this thing will happen” in the future, but it does not attempt to predict when it will happen. Example: “I will write and release a book called Phenomenal.”
  4. The Pinpoint prediction. This is what we think of when we talk about “predicting the future.” It is a prediction that something will happen at a single moment in time. To be accurate, it requires total control or prediction of all possible variables. This kind of prediction is the most complex; because it requires the greatest precision, it is the most difficult to make correctly. Example: “On May 12th John will have the winning six numbers of the California state lottery.”
The further down this list you go, the more information you need, and the more the variables that can get in your way. A "Safe" prediction, for example, is reasonably obvious. You need only general information, and it doesn't have any significant variables. A "Pinpoint" prediction, on the other hand, takes a lot of thought — detailed information and variables that need to be weighed up very carefully.


Imagine the poor weather man. He spends his whole career making predictions. And he's almost always wrong. As any good meteorologist will tell you, weather trends (in places where the weather actually changes) are easy to predict (in the short term), but difficult — if not impossible — to predict with pinpoint accuracy more than a day in the future. Why? Because there’s just too much information involved. Consider rain, for a moment. Predicting a big storm is a no-brainer. There’s so much rain building up — the air pressure systems are so large — that anybody can see it coming — and no variable can stop it. But predicting small bursts of rain on a partly cloudy day is much more difficult. Will the clouds fill enough to actually drop rain? Or will they get close, but not quite reach the tipping point? In this case, the weatherman is helpless because:

There are too many variables.

He could predict it accurately. If he could track and map every atmospheric particle, and watch how each one affects the particle next to it, and see their relationships on a micro scale. He'd see how they interact, how they are affected by the geography, and how they collate into larger storm systems. If he could track all the information, his predictions could be more accurate. As of this writing, that degree of detail needs a lot more computing power than we have today. So the weather remains unpredictable. It will be possible to predict the weather. We just need significantly advanced technology. Which might take 100 years to develop. (Then again, it might only take 5.) In the meantime, we predict the trends. (As a sidenote: Did you know that a "50% chance of rain" simply means "50% of the time we've had a weather pattern like this in the past, it has rained"? Talk about a Safe prediction.)


Have you ever noticed how bad old sci-fi looks? Take a show like Star Trek for example. Remember the doors? On the original series (I saw reruns), which was set a couple hundred years into the future, the doors of the ship were designed to slide open as someone stepped up to them. They even had a cool "whoosh" sound. It was a great idea and a clever “futuristic” innovation. But by today’s eyes (only a couple decades — a fraction of the future — later), it looks ridiculous. We've got better technology at the supermarket (no cool sound, though). How could such creative people be so wrong? Because the prediction was made with 1960s information. The creative team imagined the future — but they were missing vast amounts of interim progress. In the years since the 1960s, we’ve seen technology that far surpasses what they imagined.

In short, the they didn't anticipate all the variables involved.

They couldn't. And because their story was set significantly in the future, the variables compounded. That show is going to look increasingly ridiculous as time goes on. Just as older sci-fi looks increasingly primitive today.
  • The future will be influenced by inventions and information that have not even been imagined yet.
So the further into our future we attempt to predict, the greater the chance we’ll be wrong.


Star Trek and the weatherman provide good examples of why predicting the future is so difficult. In a nutshell:

Variables we can't see can throw our predictions off course.

Making more than a "Trend" prediction about anything 200 years from now (or even 20 years from now, for that matter) is impossible. Too many things can change. Too many things will change. Things we cannot even imagine today. Just think of how radically the internet has changed the way our world works. The internet could not even be imagined by the Star Trek creators. And a technology even more revolutionary than the internet might be lurking just around the corner — perhaps as early as 17 years from now. And that has a deeply profound implication (which you need to understand before you can start predicting the future):

All predictions of the long-term future are wrong.

It's simply impossible to predict, because we don't know what we don't yet know, so we can't adjust our prediction for it. That means that anyone who tells you the world is going to end, or the Earth is going to blow up, or melt, or get overpopulated, or run out of food... is necessarily, automatically wrong. They're making predictions without factoring in all the variables.


What we can do, though (and what I suggest we get good at) is make short-term predictions whose variables we can control. What is the one element of your life you can most accurately predict? You. Your future. Think about it. You have access to just about all the information of your life, and because you’re the one living your own experience, you’re in a unique position to control the variables of your life. And if you’re completely honest with yourself and start looking at your life from the widest possible vantage point, you will be able to anticipate the variables that could otherwise broadside you. For example: What do you eat every day? Is it a healthy diet that works to maximize your body's processes? Or is it junk food that’s pumping your body full of chemicals it doesn’t know what to do with? From that alone, it’s pretty easy to make some Trend predictions about how your body will operate 10, 25, 50 years from now. What about your career? If you recall from the previous article, it takes about 10,000 hours to master something. Somewhere inside you there is a dream, a vision, a passion. How much time are you devoting to it? If you’re not devoting time every single day, you’re not adding up those hours. It’s pretty easy to predict whether you’ll achieve that dream or not, isn’t it? The same principle can be applied to your relationships, your kids, your exercise regime, your general level of happiness, your political standing, and so on, into every aspect of your life.


So let’s imagine that you look at your life and objectively predict that you’re on a course for some sort of calamity. Many years ago, I was a smoker, so let’s use that example. After five years, I’d developed a pretty nasty cough. The prediction was obvious. If I kept smoking a pack-and-a-half a day, I would continually damage my lungs, and cause significant problems for myself when I got older. But the variable was under my control. I could stop lighting up. I could simply decide to stop smoking. I could prepare myself for the narcotic and psychological withdrawals. I could make contingency plans for when I really really really wanted one, or what I’d do in those social situations where it was habit. And that’s what I did. Over seven years ago, I learned that if I stopped smoking, my lungs would start healing themselves immediately. I learned that after 48 hours, all nicotine will have left my body, and that in 10 years, my body will have refreshed itself as if I had never been a smoker.

Because I controlled the variables, I could control the prediction of my future. And I could make it come true.

The fact is, I could predict my future either way. It’s a choice. And the choice is yours. And by making the choice to predict my future, I’ve been a non-smoker for 7 years now. I can predict a much longer life thanks to that. There are still some unknown variables that can affect that prediction, but if I want a long-life prediction to come true, those other variables are under my control, too.


The key, then, to predicting the future is to follow these simple steps:
  1. Make a prediction you can control.
  2. Gather all the information, and assess it honestly.
  3. Determine and account for every possible variable.
  4. Make Pinpoint predictions only for the short term, and Trend predictions for the longer term.
Accuracy is determined by a) how honest you are, b) how carefully you've thought it through, and c) how far into the future you've predicted.
  • If you make a prediction you can control, then you have the power to make that future happen.
  • If you make sure to look at all the information honestly, you will have the ability to accurately predict the likely outcome.
  • If you look at all the variables, you will see (likely and unlikely) events that might happen to derail your prediction, and you can create contingency plans.
  • If you predict carefully, you will see your future.
Yes, unexpected variables can appear that will derail your prediction. But the more honest you are with yourself, the greater control you have. And this applies not just to your own life, but to any prediction you make.


I'd like you to take your biggest single goal, or your greatest passion in life, and predict your future. Consider the information as it currently stands. Look at all the possible variables, from the expected to the unexpected. What's the current Trend? To what level of accuracy could you predict your likely outcome? The more honest you are about the information involved — how honest you are with yourself — the greater your accuracy. Now look at where you want to be, and consider what variables would need to change to make a successful prediction of your goal.

And commit.

It's that simple, really. You can make huge predictions incredibly accurately. The more you control that information and those variables, the more detailed a prediction you can make. Start by making Safe prediction. Add more detail and complexity to see the Trends in your life. Then make Basic predictions about your future. Gradually develop Pinpoint accuracy. As you start to see just how well you can predict your life, you will begin to see just how adjustable your future really is. You can predict it. You should predict it. It's your life. It should be exactly what you want it to be.

Next up, Article #4: 1,000,000+

Phenomenal: The Self-fulfilling Prophecy
is a dynamic new nonfiction book from author Jeff Bollow. You can pre-order your signed, Limited Edition first printing copy with our zero risk buyback guarantee right now. Visit the Pre-Order page for full details.


Andrew Levine (not verified) 8 July 2009 - 3:05 am

Regarding your statement that “It will be possible to predict the weather. We just need significantly advanced technology [to process more and more information]. Which might take 100 years to develop.” I’d like to refer to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle ( ):

“In quantum physics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that certain pairs of physical properties, like position and momentum, cannot both be known to arbitrary precision. That is, the more precisely one property is known, the less precisely the other can be known. It is impossible to measure simultaneously both position and velocity of a microscopic particle with any degree of accuracy or certainty. This is not only a statement about the limitations of a researcher’s ability to measure particular quantities of a system, following the tenets of logical positivism, it is a statement about the nature of the system itself.”

Which means that will _never_ be able to make pinpoint-predictions regarding the weather by collating _all_ the information. It is my guess that it will be possible to predict with increasing accuracy as the meteorologists’ models of atmospheric phenomena grow steadily more complex.

Jeff Bollow 7 July 2009 - 9:30 pm

Thanks for the comment, Andrew. But we should bear in mind that even Heisenberg was working without the benefit of future technologies. “Never” means “at no time in the past or future”. Anyone who suggests they can know what will or will not be possible in the future is automatically wrong, because the future will be influenced by inventions and information that have not even been imagined yet.