Ability to Delay Gratification Leads to Better Health
Posted Dec 24 2009 12:00am
Yes, I know this is a stunning finding, but nevertheless, I shall link to it. The gist of the research is that individuals who are better able to focus on larger, long-term payoffs with respect to their choices are typically better off, including in areas related to health. The study focused on determining whether people were more "present-minded" (i.e. focused on immediate results), or "future-oriented" (i.e. Seeing the longer-term consequences). From the article:
Daugherty and Brase found that it was possible to predict participants' health behaviours according to whether they were future-minded or present-minded.
For example, they found that "delay discounting and time perspective significantly improved the incremental prediction of tobacco, alcohol, and drug use, exercise frequency, eating breakfast, wearing a safety belt, estimated longevity, health concerns ...".
They also found that participants who gave future-minded answers were more likely to report healthy behaviours.
The findings could shed light on how people deal with negative health behaviours: Brase said they could help people make better health decisions. A person with a present-minded time perspective would find it easier to make changes if they could see the rewards sooner rather than later.
The article also offers suggestions regarding how to improve the decision-making processes of those who are more present-minded. It is in this vein I chose to link to this article; while the importance of developing the ability to delay gratification is readily apparent in a wide variety of areas, the trick (both in personal efforts as well as in therapy, where this issue comes up in many different clinical goals) is how to go about improving one's ability to delay gratification. That is, we all know it's important; the question is, how do we do it?
The article suggests that one way to improve decision-making for those who are present-minded is to emphasis the relatively quick pay-offs for the future-oriented behavior. For example, starting an exercise regimen may be extremely important for a person with high cholesterol levels; however, the benefits may not be readily apparent in that regard. A more present-oriented person might respond better to the associated weight-loss (or other benefits that occur more quickly), even though the primary goal is lowering cholesterol level. This is certainly one technique that may be useful in improving an individual's decision-making processes, especially early in therapy where a focus can be on certain basic, behavioral changes. Over time, a person may develop more future-oriented thinking through practicing in this manner (in addition to utilizing other behavioral techniques), and some cognitive techniques may also help in this regard. As the process unfolds, the even-larger benefits of better choices made during the initial stages will become apparent, further reinforcing the smarter decisions.