Like when it comes to saving for retirement, avoiding debt, getting our work done and taking care of our health.
In reality, we’re enamored with the now. And our future selves are suffering because of it.
Behavior economists have observed the underlying cause of our now-ism: we have a natural psychological tendency to overvalue present experiences and undervalue future experiences.
We think a pleasure today will be more enjoyable than the same pleasure tomorrow.
And, conversely, we think something bad will be a little easier to swallow tomorrow.
We even value our current experience so much that we’ll sacrifice a big reward down the road for a very small pleasure today.
No wonder we postpone our health! We so often plan to exercise and eat healthier tomorrow, instead of just doing it right now. We do this knowing that we may be causing long-term harm to our bodies, and that—if we continue to postpone healthy habits—there might not even be a tomorrow!
How can we be kinder to our future selves?
One way is to make “pre-commitments.” Look at the effectiveness of automatic enrollment in retirement accounts. Or preset automatic contributions to a savings account.
Setting a firm deadline at work can prevent us from dragging our feet.
And signing up for a class, competition or fitness trip are great ways to jumpstart an exercise regimen.
Pre-commitments are a powerful first step. But where from there? Can we really “rope” ourselves into healthiness… forever?
I wonder if there are other, more spontaneous and willing ways to take care of ourselves. Can we rewire our brains to want to do the work now and enjoy the reward later? Would being more connected to our future selves make the future rewards more tangible?
Or maybe the most sustainable way would be to accept and adapt to our natural tendency to overvalue the now. Maybe we find a way to make exercise and healthy eating not the work, but the reward?