You Can’t Beat Present Bias Without Good Habits
I failed geometry during my sophomore year of high school. I tell myself it’s because the teacher made us take an examination the day two planes hit the World Trade Center. How cruel was she?
But I know that isn’t true. I failed because I didn’t study before big test days. My goal was not to fail. Yet, temptation got the best of me. I remember my priority was watching bulls games. They only won 21 games that year. I ended up having to take the class again during the summer.
High school was filled with temptations. It prevented me from being a better student. I always procrastinated on studying and writing papers.
When I reached university, I found a way to break the cycle. My impulsivity was still there. And still is. I didn’t know it then, but I was using situational control.
My proudest example is earning an “A” in Stats 301. I found myself going to the library and finding a quiet booth. I studied for hours. No friends. No TV. No internet. The environment I put myself in didn’t allow temptations.
Research shows using this type of strategy leads to better outcomes across many life domains.
And this approach is changing the traditional definition of self-control. You aren’t supposed to say “no” to temptations. “No” has an immediate cost.
Who wants to say no to their desires? Nobody.
When I decided to watch bulls games over studying for my geometry final, I was using present bias. I favored present Irfan over future Irfan.
And there is strong evidence good habits mediate the relationship between situational control and positive life outcomes.
In other words, building good habits will result in less reactive self-control and more automatic situational control.
Habits are not disrupted by lack of attention, changes in motivation, or stress.
The problem is overconfidence in our willpower. It is about us believing we have control. This along with our bias of the present over the future results in skipping workouts or not studying for that exam when we need to.
Habits aren’t magic but they are the best way for me to hit my goals. And maybe they are for you, too.