Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Adventures in Mental Time Travel

I took the title of today’s post from a chapter in Annie Duke’s book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decision When you Don’t Have All the Facts.  This is the latest book I have finished reading.  I found the information I gained from this book so useful that I wanted to share some excerpts and insights with you.  Today I will discuss how we can use mental time traveling on our journey towards financial freedom.

To quote a passage from Annie Duke’s book, “For all the scientific research on the battle between our immediate desires and long-term goals, a particularly succinct explanation comes from Jerry Seinfeld, on why he doesn’t get enough sleep: “I stay up late at night because I’m Night Guy.  Night Guy wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours of sleep?’ ‘That’s Morning Guy’s problem.  That’s not my problem.  I’m Night Guy.  I stay up as late as I want.’  So you get up in the morning: you’re exhausted, you’re groggy. ‘Oooh, I hate that Night Guy.’  See, Night Guy always screws Morning Guy.”

Why do we have such a difficult time preparing for our future and planning for our future-selves?  Why do we spend (sometimes frivolously) now instead of saving in our retirement accounts?  Investing towards financial freedom means that we need to find ways of saving money or earning more money now, instead of placing the responsibility on our future self.  Don’t let your current self screw your future-self.

Temporal discounting is the tendency to favor our present-self at the expense of our future-self.  In a way, we are built to behave this way.  We use up the resources available to us right now instead of saving those resources for a future self that we don’t have any strong connection to right.  

So how can we get to know our future-self right now?  The future we can imagine for ourselves is usually based off our past.  One way we can get to know our future-self is to remember past experiences.  Putting our past memories together can help us remember and construct an idea of our future. 

Annie Duke goes on to say that “Night Jerry can access memories like oversleeping and missing appointments or dozing off during morning meetings that he can use to imagine how tired Morning Jerry will be or what’s going to happen to Morning Jerry’s schedule when he doesn’t want to get up or how his day will go when he can’t pay attention.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if Morning Jerry could travel back in time and tap Night Jerry on the shoulder to tell him to go to bed?”  

Studies find that when participants are shown software created images of their aged, older looking selves (complete with wrinkles, hair loss, and white hair), subjects allocated extra money towards their retirement accounts.  Getting a glimpse of how we will look in the future can be a powerful reminder of the importance of saving up in the present.  Thinking about our future situation can get us to think about the consequences of not properly saving for that future.  

Annie Duke says these types of apps can be a: “tap on the shoulder from our future-self. “Hey, don’t forget about me.  I’m going to exist and I’d like you to please take that into account.”

We’re not perfectly rational when we ponder the past or the future and engage our deliberative mind, but we are more likely to make choices consistent with our long-term goals when we can get out of the moment and engage our past- and future-selves.  We want Night Jerry and Morning Jerry colliding on the decision of when to get some sleep.

And we want our aged, wrinkly self colliding with us when we decide between spending more money now on something like a nicer car versus saving more money for retirement.”

Do you have older family members, colleagues, or friends that have failed to save for their own future?  What are their struggles?  Are they working much longer than they’d like because they don’t have a nest egg that can support them?  Are they dependent on their children or family members to take care of them and help them pay their bills?  Imagine if you were put into a similar situation.  Would you have any regrets?  How can you avoid the mistakes that led to these outcomes?

Harness the power of regret
While many consider regret to be an unproductive waste of time, Annie Duke argues that regret can be a powerful motivational tool.  Instead of sulking over something that has already occurred, she suggests moving regret to the front of our decisions.  This way regret can help us alter choices that could lead to poor outcomes.  

Look into your future.  Will you be struggling to get by due to poor retirement savings decisions when you were younger?  Will you be dependent on government checks to cover your daily expenses?  Will you be a burden on your family and friends?  Will you regret what you see in this possible future?  Are there any decisions that you’ve made in your past that you regret?  These moments of decision interruption can get us to imagine how we will feel in the future based on the decisions we make today.

Moving regret forward can also help us come to terms with accepting a bad outcome.  If we know what to expect, we will be less likely to be blindsided.  No one likes to hear the phrase “I told you so” - especially from themselves.  

The 10-10-10 question
Author Suzy Welch came up with the 10-10-10 guideline to help us think about our future situation, during our current situation.  When considering decisions, ask yourself the questions:

“What are the consequences of each of my options in ten minutes?  In ten months?  In ten years?”

This line of questioning gets us to mentally time travel in the future.  On the same concept, you can also use these questions to ask yourself how you feel about certain decisions you’ve made 10 minutes ago, 10 months ago, and ten years ago.  The 10-10-10 question can lower your risk of making poor choices that lead to unwanted consequences.  

I highly recommend reading Annie Duke’s book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decision When you Don’t Have All the Facts.  It’s changed my outlook and perspective on many things in my life.  You can buy the book here on Amazon or check it out at the library for free like I did.

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