Are You Sabotaging Your Best Intentions?

“Self-Control is not a problem in the future, it is only a problem now.”

– Shlomo Benartzi

According to eminent psychologist Daniel Kahneman, we each have two selves. There’s the Experiencing Self, which lives life continuously and is aware of what is happening about 3 seconds at a time. And then there’s the Remembering Self, which thinks it remembers most of what happens, but which actually remembers very little.

Kahneman believes the Remembering Self can (and often does) sabotage our best intentions. Kahneman’s insights carry a lot of weight. He’s a former Nobel Memorial Prize winner, one of Foreign Policy magazine’s “top global thinkers”, and the author of the best-seller Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Let’s see how his theory works in practice. What do you remember about July and August? You experienced a lot in those two months: more than 1.6 million three-second intervals. But, if asked what you remember about the summer, what would you say? How long could you talk about your summer? Twenty or thirty minutes perhaps? That is not much compared with the 80,000 minutes you actually lived during July and August.

Although your mind only remembers a fraction of what you think about moment by moment, your Remembering Self makes almost all of your decisions. Here’s where the sabotage comes in. When we make decisions, we don’t choose between experiences – we choose between our memories (or our stories) of those experiences.

How many times has your Remembering Self promised you that you will:

  • Save more for your retirement
  • Exercise more regularly
  • Pay down your credit cards
  • Eat healthier foods
  • Stop procrastinating

And yet, when you actually experience the moments when you could put those promises into practice (your Experiencing Self), your Remembering Self sabotages the opportunity by remembering a good reason why you can’t do it this minute.

But there’s help at hand. Authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein suggest we can overcome the ‘can’t do it now’ message if we give ourselves a gentle nudge, rather than a giant task.

Nudge Yourself and Improve Your Life

According to their new book, Nudge, Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, you can achieve your goals more easily, and live more happily, if you get into the habit of giving yourself… a nudge. For example, if you would like to increase your retirement fund, arrange with your bank to transfer $25, $50,or $100 per week into an RRSP fund. Once the arrangement is made, you will hardly notice the deduction, but you will enjoy seeing your fund steadily increase.

Want to eat more healthily? Here’s how the nudge strategy works. Instead of declaring you are going to lose 10 pounds (a giant task), give yourself a nudge: remove all sugary, fatty, and salty snacks from your environment and replace them with your favorite fruits and veggies. You can also explore stickk.com to choose other nudges which will help you achieve your goals.

So, when that self-sabotaging Remembering Self tells you can’t pay your debts, or improve your diet, or get fitter – give yourself a nudge.

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