Learn how to control your impulses and delay gratification to make healthy decisions, avoid temptations, and choose bigger, long-term benefits over small, immediate rewards.
Today’s Loss Is Tomorrow’s Gain
Picture this: you’re walking down the beach, trip over a half-buried lamp, and outbursts a genie. But this is no ordinary genie — it’s a delay genie, and he’ll only grant you one wish right away or three wishes in a year’s time. (And hey, no time travel, or wishing for more wishes!) Three wishes are obviously more than one, but a year is a long time to wait. So you have the impulse to go ahead and make that one wish right now. Don’t feel too bad — this common trait behavior is called future discounting. It’s when we’re inclined to choose immediate gratification over greater future rewards.
Are you surprised? Like an opportunistic hunter-gatherer who stumbled across a bush full of ripe berries, evolution has taught us to take what we can get while we can get it. And just imagine all the things that could go wrong with that lamp over a whole year:
- Your significant other sells “that ugly old lamp you keep around.”
- A villain steals the lamp to make an immediate wish to take over the world.
- You get hit by a bus (or run over by a flying carpet).
But we don’t live in a world of magic lamps, and we aren’t hunter-gatherers anymore. We exist in a time of 401k plans and long-term educational goals, a world where we can eat ten thousand calories at a sitting if we really want to. Moreover, research shows that the most successful among us in this modern world have the self-discipline to choose the options that benefit us in the future instead of doing what feels good in the moment.
Some of us have it worse than others, too. Extroverts face a harder time choosing the future over the present than introverts.1 (Who wants to worry about the future when you’re partying at the moment with friends?) And some people have addiction problems linked to the instant gratification that future discounting provides.
Here are some tips and tricks to gain more self-control so you can choose those three future wishes over that measly immediate wish.
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