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The Future is Now: Lower Impulsivity, Delay Gratification

A new study underscores a future orientation to enhance impulse control.

The problem with self-control is that we are usually paying now for a reward later. The consequence is that we discount future rewards and give in to feel good now. How can we learn to delay gratification? Here’s some new research that might help.

This Week in Psychological Science (TWiPS) just posted a new article published by Tinuke Oluyomi Daniel, Christina Stanton, and Leonard Epstein (University at Buffalo, The State University of New York) entitled, "The Future Is Now: Reducing Impulsivity and Energy Intake Using Episodic Future Thinking." In this study, the authors explore how future thinking helps with impulse control. The participants in their study that thought about the future were able to eat fewer calories, thereby sticking to their goal to reduce their food intake and meet their weight-control goal.

In an earlier similar study published in the journal Appetite (read a summary here), Epstein and his colleagues concluded that “when people are taught to imagine, or simulate the future, they can improve their ability to delay gratification.”

The key point is that mentally simulating the future can help reduce our impulsive urge to give in to feel good now. Of course, this self-regulation problem of giving in to feel good is at the heart of procrastination, so the implications of this study are important for understanding procrastination as well.

If you’re interested in how this “time travel” to the future can help in relation to our self-control, you may want to read this previous blog post on "tough love" for procrastinators that explains other ways that thinking about the future can help bolster our self control.

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