Prioritising the present doesn’t mean you lack willpower | Psyche Ideas - Deepstash

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A popular view of self-control

A popular view of self-control

There is a view that sees self-control as a battle between impulsivity and deliberate foresight. This idea has roots in ideas from ancient Greeks.

The International Society for Research on Impulsivity defines the desire for smaller rewards available now over larger, but later rewards as a type of impulsivity that involves a lack of planning and regard for future consequences. But, this view rests on a false dichotomy between foresight and impulsivity.

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Pre-commitment to be indulgent

People can use their foresight to prioritise the present. Many behaviours that seem like a lack of willpower are not caused by a reluctance to plan ahead. Instead, they come from our capacity for long-term thinking.

For example, our decision-making can be influenced by the motivation to avoid future regrets about missing out. People foresee their own reliable tendency to spend money on boring essentials. Pre-committing to indulgences forces us to have some fun.

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Choosing immediate rewards

People living in poverty tend to favour smaller immediate rewards over a larger delayed payoff.

A possible reason for this is if you live in a highly uncertain environment or where people tend not to keep their promises, a farsighted view will lead you to get what you can now. Even children will use background information when forming expectations about whether their patience will pay off.

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Metacognition affects our decision-making

Metacognition - the ability to reflect on our thinking - plays a large part in our decision-making processes.

We don't only have emotions or desires that drive us. We also reflect on our emotions, regret our decisions, and try to work around them to pursue our immediate and delayed goals.

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It is not a failure to opt for immediate rewards

The label of 'failure' when people don't opt for delayed gratification is often completely misleading, such as when someone chooses immediate rewards because they don't trust the promise of a delayed reward.

Prescriptive moulds that say how people are supposed to act is unhelpful. Instead, the goal should be to understand the actual reasons for decision-making within the broader context.

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