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Why you need to always have something to look forward to, no matter how small. by Phil Hesketh


Everything today is geared up to encouraging us to make a snap decision rather than one that is carefully considered.
Take a short break.
(Come back, I didn't mean now!)
Today, your other half only has to mention the possibility of a weekend in Barcelona and it can be booked online within the hour. But this 'buy now, pay later' culture can not only lead to economic difficulties, it also actually reduces the pleasure we get from our purchases. You see, often, it's the anticipation of an event or a purchase that really gets our juices flowing. It's a sort of foreplay that consumers of old used to enjoy whilst watching their savings grow. Canadian psychologist Elizabeth Dunn calls it 'free pleasure'.

Dunn's research suggests that we get enormous amounts of pleasure just from looking forward to good things in the future. Like our summer holidays, for example. We all love to shop for new outfits, plan what we're going to do, and imagine a lovely, warm sun beating down on our pale, white skin. Fred Bryant of Chicago's Loyola University went one step further when he declared that not only do we get more pleasure by delaying purchases, we also make better decisions. Like not booking on the Costa Concordia cruise ship, or buying our Euros six months in advance.

But what if you can't wait, and want it right now? What if you believe in living for today and sod tomorrow? There's a part of us that thinks we'll enjoy something more if we get it right now. But that's the greedy part of our mind and it's always proved wrong. You might think that what we lose in anticipation, we'll gain in reminiscences, since we have longer to enjoy our purchases. But this isn't the case. On the contrary, once objects or experiences are 'obtained' our mind forgets about them. But while they're still in the future, we keep mulling them over and the anticipation builds.

You may have experienced this feeling when changing your car. Often, you spend months weighing up all the options before deciding on the make and model, the trim level and the extras. It's all very exciting and you can't wait to take delivery. Then a few weeks into driving it the novelty wears off and it becomes just another thing in your life that's expensive to run. It's also why so many sporting events are a bit of a letdown. You spend ages looking forward to a major tournament and then two wins, two draws and a penalty defeat later you're left wondering what all the fuss was about. Similarly, it doesn't really matter if a Brit never wins Wimbledon. Every year, we get out the flags and cheer them on in the hope that they might. That's the pleasure.

So here's a little tip for life: try to always have something to look forward to, no matter how small. The power of anticipation in boosting your well-being is incredible. And you will make better choices for the future than if you make a snap decision right now. Today, we're like a fat kid looking at a choc ice. When choosing for the future, we're like sensible grown-ups, selecting things we know are better for us. Economists call this 'hyperbolic discounting', psychologists call it 'the present bias' and I call it the 'chocolate cake now, diet next week' effect.

Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion and influence.
He also reads studies from all over the world about how influence works and distills them down into pithy posts.  Basically he reads that kind of stuff so you don't have to.