Yep, I didn’t believe it either. In their book, Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath report an experiment in problem-solving.
Students were divided into 3 groups.
Group 1, the control, just thought about a problem.
Group 2, the “past,” was asked to go back and re-live the history of the problem. What gave rise to the problem? What were the causes? What else was going on?
Group 3, the “future,” was asked to imagine the problem was solved. They were supposed to picture themselves enjoying the outcome, free of stress.
OK, before reading: Which group would you expect solved their problems most quickly?
Believe it or not, Group 2 did better. They sought out information and investigated their options. “Simulating past events is much more helpful than simulating future outcomes.” (p 211).
Seems counterintuitive. And of course, anticipating situations can help you function more effectively, say the authors. But there’s something about walking through past events that stimulates the brain and generates activity.