Present bias: how instant gratification impacts your long-term goals - Deepstash
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Seizing short-term opportunities

Seizing short-term opportunities

Grabbing short-term opportunities can lead you to settle for a small present reward rather than wait for a larger future reward.

This tendency is known as the present bias. While it may feel good at the time, it can negatively impact long-term planning and decision-making.


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Illustrating the present bias

The classic experiment to show if the present bias is at play is to ask, "would you prefer $100 today or $110 in one week?" The desire for instant reward will cause many to take the $100 now rather than waiting for the reward.

A study showed stronger activation in reward-related areas of the brain when participants were asked to make decisions that would lead to an immediate reward. However, with delayed gratification, there was far less activation within the brain's reward centres.


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How the present bias impacts your success

How the present bias impacts your success

It’s tempting to take a reward that is available right now, but the cognitive bias can harm your future self.

For example:

  • You may work hard to get a place on a law degree course, but then give in to the present bias and spend most of your time socialising at the expense of your exams.
  • Being offered a higher salary can cause us to forget about our long-term career goals.
  • The desire for instant gratification can lead to reckless spending rather than putting money into a long-term investment.
  • Procrastination can prevent you from making progress on a project well before the deadline.


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Strategies to manage the present bias

Managing the present bias consists in staying mindful of your long-term goals.

  • Write down your long-term goals. Create a list of what you want to achieve this year or over the next few years. Then, when you're faced with a choice between different rewards, refer back to your list to ensure you're on track.
  • Delay new purchases until tomorrow. The extra time will lower your impulsivity level and allow you to make an informed decision.
  • Follow the ten-minute rule. If you procrastinate on a task, tell yourself to start right now for just ten minutes. You may find yourself continuing.


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