Why do we do things that aren’t in our long term interests?

We care more about things that are about to happen than things that will happen a long time in the future. This is pretty rational. To give a financial example, I should prefer to have £100 today than £100 in a year’s time, since in the meantime I might be able to invest that £100 to earn some extra money.

A perfectly rational being would discount future events exponentially with a constant rate. If I discount the future at a rate of 110% per year, say, I would be indifferent about receiving £100 now, £110 on 31/12/18, or £121 on 31/12/19, and so on.

However, in 1975, economist George Ainsle published an important paper, Specious reward: a behavioral theory of impulsiveness and impulse control, in which he argued that humans tend to discount the future not exponentially, but hyperbolically. This means that we give near events much much more attention than they deserve. To continue the financial example, in an early study subjects said they would be indifferent between receiving $15 immediately or $30 after 3 months, $60 after 1 year, or $100 after 3 years. These indifferences reflect annual discount rates that declined from 277% to 139% to 63% as delays got longer, in contrast to exponential discounting, where the rate would be constant.

Continue reading “Why do we do things that aren’t in our long term interests?”

Nostalgia & going back to school

I gave a Tuesday Club talk today. I’d been back at school last night too to listen to Dave Waters’ last ever concert.

It’s weird to be back. Nothing seems to have changed at all. Same hallways, personalities, different faces. It makes me wonder how much things changed while I was there, or before I arrived. That period of my life that was at the time so significant to me – how significant was it, in the grand scheme of things? There was a Jack Hodkinson before me and there will be a Jack Hodkinson after, too. I am not special.

For that matter, I’m sure that the same logic applies to my life at Corpus now, or really to anything that anybody ever does.

Teachers that I never knew, or that never liked me, or that I never liked, are suddenly interested in shaking hands and niceties. “How is it [at uni/out there]?” over and over again, but never do we ever progress to talking about real thoughts or feelings because there’s always something to rush to.

I’m not really sure how it makes me feel. Small and insignificant, yes, but somehow I’m also interesting (merely because I’ve aged a little bit since I was last at school).

Will things still be the same in 5 or 10 years? Probably. Again, new faces, but the same conversations. What can I learn from this? That it’s OK to tread water? Surely not, since if I look back in 5 years at myself and feel that I’ve been treading water, I’ll be mortified.

So what? Maybe the answer is to never look back, but to plough forward. However, I suspect that’s what everybody back at school is doing.

I only have a limited amount of time on this planet, and it’d be a shame if I didn’t make the most of it.

I think the answer is to never rush. To move forward, but always relish every aspect of the present. Then at least the journey, if not the destination, will have been worthwhile.