Block out time for yourself.
When you don’t want to miss something you allocate time for it. The more neurotic of us put a reminder or event in our calendar to remind us.
We do this for birthdays, work meetings, going to the gym. These are a window in your priorities. The stuff that you would do if you had a perfect week. Generally things come up and mess with these schedules, if that thing is deemed higher priority in the moment then we skip out on the scheduled activity. That’s why after a long day at work you find yourself watching Netflix with your partner (eating takeout) as your phone buzzes with the calendar reminder to be at the gym.
The immediate benefit of relaxing with them seems a lot more attractive than the short-term pain of changing clothes, getting yourself to the gym, working out and trekking back tired, cooking dinner and eating a healthy meal and having a proper conversation with your partner.
The difference is the longterm outcome. We discount that because you have to make decisions in the ‘now’, so we use an exponential weighting system to value immediate impacts over longterm ones because the further you project into the future the lower the accuracy. This makes sense to keep us alive in the short-term in a world of mortal danger and a shorter life expectancy.
This means: You perceive impact to your wellbeing this second as 2x more important than in 1 day, and 2x more important than in 1 day after that.
This is why humans are so bad at delayed gratification. It is also why that is such a good predictor of future business and financial success. Logically, blowing your pay check when you get it is not a viable longterm wealth-building strategy. Eating ramen noodles and investing all your time and money, working most waking hours to build a business is irrational and has an expected value near zero.
In the 1960s Stanford ran an experiment where they gave children a single marshmallow, and if they waited a short period of time for the researcher to come back without eating the marshmallow, they would get 2 marshmallows.
They then followed up over time finding that there was a correlation with kids that could delay gratification and higher SAT scores.
Disclaimer: It is a contentious experiment. This has been repeated a few times to mixed results, so we can’t rely on it completely and without doubt, you have been warned 😉
The background theory on why we can suck at predicting the future
This requires some more maths, I am sorry (not sorry)…Joe
Expected Value: A weighted sum of possible outcomes. The weighting here is the probability of the event.
E.g. rolling a 6-sided die – has 6 possible outcomes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Each one has a 1 in 6 chance of happening in a fair die and fair throw.
So we add it up as such EV = 1/6 x 1 + 1/6 x 2 + … 1/6 x 6 = 3.5. So when you roll it infinite times you expect the average of the values to be 3.5.
What’s the point of this? Well this can be applied to betting and as decision-making is actually just glorified betting on a future outcome this is helpful.
Imagine there is a 10% chance of making $100 and a 90% change of losing $10 should you take this path?
Well the Expected Value is = 10% * $100 + 90% * -$10 = 1. Probability theory says yes because the Expected Value is $1. So the bet is in your favour.
So, uh, What’s the expected value of sitting on the couch?
These are simple calculations, real-life is not as simple. The benefit is our bodies are incredible intuitive calculators. We are able to evaluate the risk of every activity we do and the proportional fear is indicative of the perceived expected value.
This may not be the real expected value but it is what we use to make the decisions.
The difference between your Perceived Expected Value (PEV) and the real EV is your Risk Sensitivity.
RS = PEV – EV
So if you constantly under-rating the risk of things (you are inherently optimistic) you can have a negative Risk Sensitivity because your PEV is lower than the EV on average. This means you are more likely to take risks.
You can intuit your RS by whether you feel you are a fearful person that dislikes uncertainty.
Combining delayed gratification with your risk sensitivity
So in the previous example the PEV was how you felt about the risk but how does your body figure that out? We established that we weight immediate impact far higher than longterm impact. This means that if something has a small short-term negative impact and a large positive future impact you can still have a PEV that is negative (indicating you “shouldn’t” do it).
I.e. going to the gym will cause you slight discomfort now, multiplied by a huge weighting. In 30 years keeping it up will mean you have higher mobility and agility. A higher quality of life, better metabolic conditioning and cardiovascular health. This is not to mention all the side benefits on your career and relationships by having better discipline and emotional regulation from regular exercise.
All huge benefits. But as the weighting is exponential the perceived benefit NOW is highly discounted to almost zero, but the cost is blown out of proportion. The Perceived Expected Value of the decision is probably negative, this is the power of a weighted sum. So you end up skipping out on it.
This is a bias.
The real EV is a more objective. The tiny discomfort and inconvenience of going to the gym is dwarfed by the enormous benefit of a higher average healthiness and wellbeing.
Disclaimer: I know this is more about Net Present Value (NPV) but I’m keeping it simple for now… EV is more about probability of paths. NPV is the expected return of a course of action discounted over time against an alternative to decide which is better. We are conflating these, but the philosophical point still stands.
What you will find is that you have settled into a pattern of taking the easy-outs. In your mind it is easy to justify because you are taking the paths with the highest Perceived Expected Value because they are more convenient now.
Some of the most valuable things have no impact right now
We have used going to the gym as an example, this is because (other than making you tired) it has no real benefit in the current moment.
If you go to the gym today and come home and look in the mirror. How much progress do you see, none. What about after going tomorrow, you come home, look in the mirror. How different do you look to before you left for the gym? Not at all.
This is simply because there is no difference immediately after going to the gym, it is a cumulative thing that only benefits you after consistently doing it a long period of time. If you take progress pictures and look back over months or years you can see the difference. But we lose the forest for the trees when we stare in the mirror each day.
Taking time to reflect, review and meditate is the exact same
TAKING TIME TO REFLECT, REVIEW AND MEDITATE IS THE EXACT SAME.
TAKING TIME TO REFLECT, REVIEW AND MEDITATE IS
We see the benefit in looking after our physical body because we can visually see our muscles grow and body change. The mind adapting has no physical markers in any one instant. What changes is your situation.
Your PEV will begin to shift, your Risk Sensitivity will change. This is your risk muscle. What makes you feel like you can bear the weight of this opportunity in front of you when your boss asks you to manage your first project.
If it is so important why do you not have time in your calendar to sit and think.
Time to reflect and grow. To journal about your situation. To write a message to yourself just to tell yourself appreciate you prioritising you (what a sentence). To just think.
It is so important to work that muscle out if you want to continue growing in life. It is not always about managing time, but often more about managing energy.
We spend a lot of time sharpening the blade of our mind. Learning skills and developing knowledge. But a sharp blade with no handle will cut the hand of the user. This blocked out “Me Time” will over time (of consistent effort) add the handle to the blade. The rest of your day sharpens your mind, this gives you control over it.
So what’s our actionable today?
Actionable: Put 30min in your calendar once a week to just think. At first put your phone on airplane mode. Go somewhere you can be alone with just a notepad and a pen. If you use a guided meditation app take headphones if you’re in public. Spend 10 mins meditating, 10 mins thinking and 10 mins writing about how you feel about your situation.
As this becomes more comfortable starting putting more and more time-slots. Maybe you wake up a bit earlier to fit it in the morning to set yourself up for success. But starting simple with a spot on the weekend is a great way to set yourself up for success. Set a reasonable goal to start, an easy-win.
Remember the long-term. Fight the Instant Gratification gremlin in your mind telling you to just miss it this time because an episode of Love Island is starting and you’ll miss it. Your wellbeing is the most important thing in your life. Take it seriously.