Devaluing the Future


Imagine you and I are hanging out and I say, "I'll either give you $10 right now, or $200 a year from now," what do you think you'd say? Psychologists tell us that we are much more likely to take the $10 now because, in a phrase, we tend to Devalue the Future. We see the smaller-but-immediate as being greater than the larger-yet-delayed. Likely this is due to the evolution of our brains and the vast amount of time our ancestors spent in a life or death reality, and the only thing that mattered was right now. How can you get food or shelter right now? If you come across a dear carcass, there's no preserving it. No slicing it up and slowly chipping away at your venison reserves over the next 12 months. There is no thought to the future--the guarantee of that is slim.

This slowly programmed our minds to over value the present and under value the future. Our minds lean toward instant gratification over the possibility of future rewards.

Of course, we aren't doomed to this. We can and do have our moments of thinking ahead and seeing the value of waiting, planning, and patience. But it's helpful to know that this is not our base instinct. It's helpful to know that when we are tempted to succumb to gratification right here, right now, that it's not because we are weak minded people with low self-control. It's because that is how our brains have been programmed to operate.

So when the chocolate piece of cake (or the 2nd piece) calls to you from the break room, when the website you swore you'd never visit again is one more click away, when the perfect response comes to you while reading your cousin Todd's ignorant post about bootstraps and personal responsibility, when one more gin and tonic offers the promise of bliss, when Amazon has a flash deal where now you can get that one thing you didn't even you know you wanted for 40% off,

Just remember that your brain is overly concerned with Present You.

And simply knowing this can often help us make wiser decisions that Future You will respect more.