Declinism

The belief that societies continue to decline is often linked with rosy retrospection - believing that the past was better and the future more negative.

Declinism can cloud your judgement and steer you toward bad decisions.

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  • Writer Jemina Lewis described memory bias as an emotional strategy, where we cling to the past when the present seems extremely bleak.
  • In the late 1700s, Edward Gibbons, an English historian and writer, published The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He argues that the Roman Empire collapsed because of a gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens.
  • German historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler claimed that history witnesses the rise and fall of many civilisations and that decline is inevitable.

Illusions created by rosy retrospection can change our memories in ways that affect our current decisions.

  • Declinism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Constantly worrying about decline can be a good way to ensure it.
  • A rosy outlook on the past can cause us to ignore past errors and not learn from them. Combined with declinism, it may lead to repeating the same mistakes.
  • Beware of rosy retrospection. Keep in mind how biased our memories are. If the past experience is part of a present decision, consider discussing your memory with colleagues or friends.
  • Practice calculated optimism. Instead of predicting a dim future, explore potential areas of opportunity. The aim is to keep on being part of the game.
  • Focus on long-term success. Don't confuse a temporary problem as a huge challenge. We will have ups and downs. The only failure is not moving forward.

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