Breaking the Cycle of Present Bias: Tactics for Resisting Instant Gratification

Breaking the Cycle of Present Bias: Tactics for Resisting Instant Gratification

Are you constantly finding yourself succumbing to the temptations of instant gratification? It can be difficult to resist the pull of immediate pleasure, but giving in to present bias can lead to regrets and missed opportunities in the long term.

Fortunately, there are strategies that can help you overcome this tendency and make decisions that are truly in your best interest. In this article, we will explore some tactics for resisting instant gratification and breaking the cycle of present bias.

Strategy for Dealing with Present Bias #1: Develop a Specific Behavioral Plan

In the daily life that we live, we often carry out various impulsive actions that arise because of the situation around us at a certain moment.

For example, sometimes we are tempted to buy things more impulsively because of the temptation of online discounts that keep appearing on our cellphone screens. Or another example: we sometimes buy food impulsively even though we know this food is full of cholesterol, it makes us fat and unhealthy. We impulsively buy these unhealthy foods because of our mood or maybe because of the influence of our surroundings.

Another example: we often impulsively open our cellphones every time we feel confused, and then spend time scrolling through anything that is often useless (and often takes more than an hour imperceptibly).

All of the examples of action above are impulsive, and actually occur because of a present bias. We suddenly make a decision to fulfill the pleasure of this moment; without thinking about the impact on the future.

The solution to overcome impulsive actions driven by present bias is to develop a specific behavior implementation plan (behavior implementation plan).

A practical example is like this. For example, if you want to use more of your income for future investments, and not spend it on impulse spending, then you can arrange a kind of planning commitment like this: every time you receive payday, I will immediately allocate this amount of funds to a special account to buy investment instruments. useful (whether stocks, mutual funds, gold or other). It would be great if the account had an auto debit feature, so that automatically your funds would be withdrawn to purchase the investment instrument that you have set.

The auto debit feature, which is automatic in nature, is an innovation that seems small, but actually has a powerful positive impact on the process of managing our personal finances. Because with this auto debit feature, we no longer have to bother thinking about every month, what should we do with our money. Reducing the decision-making process because everything runs automatically will really help us to avoid the trap of detrimental impulsive decisions.

Another example of a behavior implementation plan. For example, you want to allocate some of your time at night for useful activities, and not just spend it watching television or scrolling through cellphone screens. Then you can set a behavior plan like this: after every Isha prayer, I will allocate only 30 minutes to read books or material guides that are relevant to the process of improving the skills I need.

The two examples above are samples of specific behavior implementation plans (in which there is information on what actions will be taken, when and if necessary, how long they will take, or how much rupiah will be invested).

And research in human behavior shows that such a specific behavior plan is very effective in encouraging you to take action in a more planned, measurable and useful manner – and not always trapped in the temptation of impulsive action, trapped in present bias, and instant gratification mentality.

Now think about what specific behavior plan you want to live. Be specific (include what, when, and how). Through specific planning commitments like this, you can slowly reduce unplanned and frequent impulsive actions due to the influence of the present bias trap.

Strategy for Dealing with Present Bias #2: Breaking Abstract Long-Term Goals into Short-Term and Small-Scale Goals

In the description above, it is stated that one of the reasons why many people prefer the pleasure of the moment, rather than postponing it for the sake of future pleasure, is because they feel that their future is still far away and feels abstract.

People are sometimes reluctant to do “delayed gratification” (delaying pleasure for the sake of future pleasures), because they feel that the pleasures of their future seem far away, even though they wish that if they could, there would be results now.

The way to deal with problems like the one above is actually relatively simple, namely breaking down and detailing these long-term goals in smaller units of action where progress can be measured immediately, and the results immediately felt.

Example: I want to be rich in five years. These long-term goals feel abstract, and still a long way off. So often people are not so committed to living it. It would be great if the abstract long-term goals were detailed in small, measurable and tangible actions so that progress could be tracked. For example: every night for 1 hour I will learn about Facebook Advertising, so that within 6 months I can master and make money from FB advertising.

These goals are more specific and progress can also be monitored weekly or monthly. The progress of this progress is very important, because research shows you will be able to continue to be consistent and motivated, if you can feel specific progress and can monitor it every week or at least every month.

Another example: there are people who have dreams of wanting to become a famous and productive book author. But this goal is abstract, and will not be effective for people who are easily tempted by instant gratification. It would be great if the abstract goals were broken down into specific and measurable small goals, for example: that person is successful enough to write 3 pages of a book every day. Just 3 pages. If this small process can be done continuously, then the result will automatically come by itself (in two months he can write 1 book).

Breaking abstract goals down into small goals (small goals) allows us to experience more immediate results. Small goals and small results can make us feel the results of our work processes more quickly. And this is important: because remember, we tend to want instant results and have a tendency to be present bias.

Breaking down our abstract long-term goals into small goals that are easy and progress can be monitored immediately – is our trick so that these goals become more tangible and the results are easy to feel. In this way, our thirst for present bias and instant results can be fulfilled. And in turn, we become more motivated to live it optimally.


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Engineering Student of Airlangga University in Indonesia. Love to share knowledge