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Your Future Self Will Thank You For Following These 5 Rules

Do you know how many of your decisions you make on autopilot? More than you would like to think. That is actually a good thing since it allows us to avoid pondering on easy choices.

Mental shortcuts enable us to spend time contemplating higher-level things.

As much as 95 % of our decisions are based on “mental rules of thumb” or shortcuts.

What is a cognitive bias?

A cognitive bias is a systematic deviation from rationality. These tendencies have become ingrained in us since they have been beneficial for survival.

In some cases, cognitive biases pretty much sway you from making good decisions.

Common examples include loss aversion, confirmation bias, hyperbolic discounting, and bandwagon effect (social proof).

The shortcuts we rely on aren’t helpful in all situations. The best antidote is self-awareness and understanding them. If you know about these tendencies and remind yourself of them from time to time, you can make more rational decisions.

In the world we live in today, rationality is rewarded handsomely in many contexts. An excellent example is the stock market. Benjamin Graham famously described the concept of Mr. Market in the legendary book about investing, The Intelligent Investor.

Graham argues that the market cycles between irrational exuberance and pessimism.The driving force behind these cycles is mainly cognitive biases such as loss aversion and the bandwagon effect.

If you know about these psychological forces, you have a great advantage to make money in the stock market. Not only that, but manipulation often preys on psychological tendencies as well. The people that are the most prone to be manipulated are those that think they can’t be.

Those who know that they are inclined to behave irrationally in the right circumstances like all other humans are the least vulnerable to various kinds of manipulation.

Hyperbolic discounting — immediate gratification

In this article, we will take a closer look at hyperbolic discounting. That is the tendency that explains why it is so gruelingly challenging to live up to our new year’s resolutions.

Hyperbolic discounting is our tendency to choose immediate rewards over bigger rewards later.

Hyperbolic discounting is one of the key pillars of behavioral economics.

Behavioral economics is a field that looks at both psychology and economics to understand how and why we make decisions.

Preferring rewards right now over rewards in the future made sense for our ancestors. People used to live shorter lives, and there were more potential dangers. Now, delaying rewards is the way to become successful regardless of the context.

Any worthwhile endeavor requires working consistently over a long period to accomplish it.

If we only value short-term rewards, we won’t have the patience and discipline to succeed at anything worthwhile.

Successful people delay rewards more aggressively than others

Successful people delay rewards more aggressively than other people. Simply put, this means that they are willing to work harder and longer than others. They have a higher pain threshold since they value the future more than others.

Their minds are conditioned to place a higher value on future rewards.

Most people don’t have a concept of self that stretches more than six months into the future. That means that we essentially cannot anticipate how our current behavior will affect our future lives. Our tendency to think too short-term is a result of hyperbolic discounting.

This is also why companies obsess about quarterly results rather than longer-term results. The most successful companies, such as Amazon, have a longer time frame. Jeff Bezos focuses three years into the future in his daily life.

We can become more successful by thinking a bit further ahead than others in many cases. Then, we will be willing to do things they will not.

The marshmallow experiment

The researcher Walter Mischel did the famous marshmallow test in 1972 to determine how delaying gratification influences success in life.

Kids were put in different rooms with one marshmallow in front of them. The researcher gave the children a deal. They would get one extra if they didn’t eat the marshmallow before he returned.

The researcher left for 15 minutes.

The children had an easy choice, eat one marshmallow right now and get instant pleasure or postpone it but get double the treat.

They found that children who could wait longer for rewards had better outcomes in practically all areas of life. They were healthier, better educated, had better social skills, and scored better on many other metrics.

“The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the indispensable prerequisite for success.” — Brian Tracy.

Can you change your inclination to delay gratification?

The marshmallow clearly shows that children’s willingness to delay gratification plays an important role later in life. Some children had more self-control than others.

Does this mean that our ability to delay gratification is set in stone, or can this attribute be trained?

The million-dollar question would be, can you change how much you can delay rewards? The answer is yes!

My life changed when I started taking my future self into account. I started listening to podcasts of successful people and realized that people that reach great success do so because they think long-term.

They don’t care about money right now, but they care about how they can build lasting wealth, and they realize it will take time.

Drug addicts can’t effectively delay rewards in the future. A study looked at this and compared an opioid-dependent group with a control group. A hypothetical reward of 1000 US dollars lost 50 % of its absolute value among the controls after 37 months. On the other hand, the opioid-dependent group felt the monetary amount lost half its value in 4.5 months!

Right now is really a crack-head idea. The inclination to get involved in pyramid schemes and other scams is a result of our inherent short-sightedness as humans.

Perhaps the best thing you can do to become a better person is to become less short-sighted. A lot of our worst impulses come from wanting pleasure or rewards right now.

Even if you are selfish, you will do great if you are selfish when you consider a long time horizon. Why? Because people that help and are useful to others tend to be rewarded. If you shift your time perspective, you will become a better person and much more likely to achieve what you want in life.

Follow these 5 rules to delay gratification and build a better future:

  • Give yourself a treat realiably.

Reliability plays a huge role in how long we are willing to delay gratification. If we know for a fact that we will get a treat by delaying gratification, we will be much more inclined to do it than if the payoff is uncertain. How can you use this trick on yourself? Give yourself a treat reliably when you do something difficult.Treat yourself to a hot cup of chocolate when you manage to study extra long. Allow yourself a small pleasure whenever you manage to pull off something that requires a lot of willpower.

  • Start picturing a future self, 5 or 10 years ahead.

An excellent way to start becoming less prone to the irrationality of hyperbolic discounting is to imagine a future self, 5 or 10 years into the future.Very few people do this, which is also why not everyone gets what they want out of life.Look further ahead.

Getting what you want out of life requires making sacrifices in the short term. The best way to have a worthwhile future is to start caring about your future self. Do things today that will make your future self grateful.

  • Realize the importance of compound interest.

The mind sees things linearly, while habits compound for better or worse exponentially. It is easy to get discouraged when you only see minor improvements.But, if you know that those improvements start small, but they will get bigger and bigger over time, you will be more motivated to continue.

  • View every choice you make as a commitment to all the future choices you will make as well.

This is a trick for Howard Racklin who was a psychologist.

For example, if you drink a bottle of coke now, you can try to view it like this will mean that you will drink a bottle of coke a day for the rest of your life.

What happens if you drink a bottle of coke once? Not much. What happens if you drink that bottle every day for the next year? It will be very damaging to your health. This trick is excellent to understand the impact of every decision we make.

“The most important step you ever take in life is your next one” — David Goggins.

  • You can improve something very, very small.

Doing something slightly better today than yesterday will snowball into something big relatively fast.For example, what will happen if you do one extra set in the gym every week or read five additional pages every time you sit down?

We often fail to start because we set too high expectations. Set small expectations and follow through. Tomorrow, do the same, only slightly better. Pretty soon, your life has changed.

Changing mindset

Let’s assume we value what happens right now 5:1 compared to what happens five years into the future.

That means we care five times more about what happens right now than what happens in five years.

What would happen if you managed to shift this ratio to 2:1?

You would start behaving very differently and avoid indulging in your worst impulses. You would start thinking more about how your current decisions impact your future. The result is that you will take better care of your health, finances, and relationships.

If you value what happens right now as five times more important than what happens five years into the future, doing drugs, taking up credit card debt, and eating junk food might not seem like a big deal.

If you discount the future that way, you will make inferior long-term decisions. Why? Because then the future is not important, and maximizing pleasure right now seems more rational.

On the other hand, if you shift this ratio to 2:1, for example, you will have to consider your future health, your future relationships, and much more. Now, your behavior will be much different, and it will be much easier to build good habits.

What are the benefits of delaying gratification?

  • You are actively controlling your future

  • You will become happier and build more self-esteem

  • You will build more self-control

  • Helps you save money

  • You can celebrate with an actual reason behind it

  • You will have more freedom later

Discipline is the foundation for many of our good qualities.

By delaying gratification, you will have some moments that will be painful up-front, but you will experience more happy emotions overall. The only difference will be that you cannot always have happy emotions right now.

Delaying gratification is pretty much like planting tiny seeds. They will grow, and you will reap the benefits in the future.

Your relationship with your future self will determine your destiny. Make that relationship a healthy one.

Say no to that marshmallow right now. Get two in the future instead!

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