Recently, I found myself struggling with the choice of ordering lunch from my favourite restaurant. A debate started in my mind between indulging in a delicious pasta or going for a light, healthy meal. My inner self started listing all the pros and cons of having pasta. The battle raged in my head until my mom asked me whether I had placed the order.
I lost the battle with myself and ordered pasta. The option I wanted won over the option I should have selected.
By the way, I am a person who does not opt for short-run enjoyment at the expense of long-run benefits. But sometimes, I lose the battle.
Well, we all face this kind of internal conflict every now and then. Every day we all make collective decisions, be it savings or eating only healthy food, doing regular exercise or waking up early. But how often do we follow through on them or stick to the plan?
Many of us fail to hold the temptation of our immediate desires over our long-term interests or benefits. It leads us to decide against our better judgment. Thus, engaging in such behaviour that would have been rejected with adequate forethought is mostly regretted later.
Do you know behavioural psychology research has revealed a phenomenon called ‘Time Inconsistency’ for such a temperament? It refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more than future rewards.
For better understanding, let’s consider we all possess two selves – a ‘want self’ and a ‘should self’. The ‘want self’ fights for all the things that bring short term pleasure. On the contrary, a ‘should self’ represents your long-term interests. In fact, many shows and movies also depict internal conflict by showing a whispering angel and devil offering conflicting preferences. In simple terms, we call it internal conflict.
Whenever you set goals for yourself – such as writing a book, future investments or savings, losing weight, avoiding junk food – you make plans for your future-self. Thus, you envision the future the way you want it to be. So, when you plan or envision your future you see the long-term benefits. Hence, your future-self/should-self values long-term rewards.
While your future-self sets a goal, only your present self is responsible to take action to accomplish that goal. That means the action or decision is taking place in the present. So, when the time comes to take action, your present-self looks at the immediate reward and not the future reward.
For example, the idea of starting a healthy diet or achieving a fitness goal is made by the future-self. But the same idea is no longer captivating for your present-self when it comes to take an action, because today’s action will reward you with long-term rewards such as a fit and healthy life. But eating chocolate today can give you a calming pleasure for the intense sugar craving.
Sure, you all know how important it is to be healthy. A healthy diet and exercise will give you a fit life ahead. And here arises the internal conflict — you will get the benefit or risk (in case of an unhealthy lifestyle) in the future and not today. Hence, you usually choose the short-term reward as the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle are years away.
Similarly, as a young adult, you know saving in your 20s and 30s is important to secure your future. But your present-self values the instant reward by buying new clothes or shoes instead of saving that money for the old you.
That’s why our present-self and future-self are always in conflict. Hence, we sometimes act against our own better judgments.
Thanks for reading, hope you found this post helpful!
Note: The article was first published here.
About the author: You may reach out to Prerna Dhulekar here.