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What You Want Now vs What You Want Most

“Time preference”, as it’s referred in economics, or “Delayed Gratification” in psychology, is the measure of how people make decisions between their immediate enjoyment versus enjoyment in the future. If you’ve ever heard of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment you know what I’m talking about.

Individuals with a “High Time Preference” prefer enjoyment right now, in the present, at a discount to enjoyment in the future. They will eat one marshmallow now instead of two marshmallows 15 minutes from now.

Individuals with “Low Time Preference” prefer to discount the present in order to have increased enjoyment in the future. They will eat zero marshmallows now so they can have two marshmallows 15 minutes from now.

I think inherently we all know that a low time preference is more desirable than a high time preference whenever possible. Obviously, that’s not ALWAYS the case. Extreme circumstance calls for exceptions to the rule. If you’re dangerously dehydrated, one bottle of water right now is going to be preferable to more bottles of water in a future time you may or may not even live to see. Should go without saying but this is the internet.

Low time preference will benefits us with financial security. Invest now for more security late. It will benefit us with better health. Gym time, less pizza, and less beer now will lead to a leaner, stronger, more resilient body as we age. Low time preference will benefit our relationships. Have that tough uncomfortable conversation now instead of papering over it setting ourselves up for a massive blow up conversation later.

It may seem like low time preference decisions can make us unhappy in the present just to trade for the same level of happiness in the future but that’s not the case at all. Making the low time preference in the present not only sets us up for more happiness and success in the future, it has the added benefit of giving us satisfaction and peace of mind right. We know we’ve done the best thing for ourselves and can feel the momentum building. As we make the low time preference decision more often, the more it becomes our habit. Habitually making the low time preference decision creates huge gains for our future selves. Great text on this is Darren Hardy book The Compound Effect. It’s been a while since I read it, and I’m not sure if it mentions “Time Preference” specifically, but it’s related either way.

How do we train ourselves to have a lower time preference? To start, set goals for what you want most. More income? More free time? Less fat? More muscle? Less anxiety? More peace? More flow? Make those priorities and break them down into smaller goals. Monthly, then weekly, then daily. Write it all down, that’s key. At the end of the day look at your micro goals and your task list for the day. Did you make them happen? If not, why not? If so, how? Think on these things before going to bed and set motivational intentions for the following day. Your subconscious mind will begin working on them while you sleep. Don’t grind on them so hard you get amped up, just keep them in mind while you drift off.

The saying goes we overestimate what we can do in a day, but vastly underestimate what we can do in a year. Lowering your time preference will be one of the best things you ever do for yourself. You will make progress day over day and keep momentum snowballing. I promise you’ll notice changes for the positive sooner rather than later.

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