Today is More Important than Next Week

06 January 2016

Hyperbolic discounting is a fancy name for the way we prefer something sooner than later even if, objectively, waiting is better. It's because we don't tend to value future rewards correctly and instead exaggerate the value of imminent ones. At some point, this catches up with us and I cover this in my next post.

If you want to find out more about the detail of hyperbolic discounting, there is a very boring article* about it on Wikipedia. It's got graphs and formulas, the works. My head hit the desk after just three paragraphs and I have two engineering degrees.

Further Thoughts

Scientists have performed experiments where they have measured the hyperbolic discounting effect. In the real world, however the situation will rarely be as clear cut as receiving a dollar today instead of two dollars tomorrow. Different outcomes are not so easily comparable nor the timelines so exact. Therefore in practice, actions that offer almost instant gratification or avoid imminent punishment are naturally hard to resist.

When life was unpredictable and short, and rewards were phyiscal or tangible, taking the opportunity right in front of us would make perfect sense. Nowadays, however, our environment is a lot more predictable and we even plan for our old age as soon as we start work. Things have become very different very quickly when measured using an evolutionary timescale.

So what happens when we are presented with unlimited opportunities for instant gratification?  Our lives become full of distractions.

* an asterisk at the end of a link means that if you click this link you will be taken to another site.