It isn’t just your mother who tells you that good things come to those who wait: your brain does, too! According to new scientific research by Dr. Jan Peters and Christian Büchel, the human brain is wired to help encourage you to make decisions with larger long-term rewards instead of instant gratification.
Peters and Büchel investigated how the brain operates during reward-based decision-making processes. They found that while people are prone to choosing quicker rewards over delayed incentives, their subjects possessed the ability to override their initial urges and make wiser choices.
The study utilized 30 volunteers in their mid-twenties, each of whom was asked to come up with a list of significant events such as parties and weddings that would occur in the following seven months. Half of the subjects served as the study’s constants and were asked to numerically score the events, predictably giving higher points to the closer events. The other half was fed one word “cues” which evoked images of each of their respective events. These cues provoked heightened brain activity or “episodic future thought” and resulted in the scoring the events in a manner that more accurately reflected their reward value rather than time proximity.
People face time-related reward dilemmas on a daily basis. Do you go to the movies tonight or save the money to put toward a nice vacation a few months from now? Though research in this area has only just begun, the initial findings are both encouraging and helpful. If you find yourself prone to impulse and often fail to consider long-term benefits, stop to envision a future reward such as a vacation, weight loss, or career success. These cues will signal your brain to focus on more valuable benefits over short-term returns.
Before you make a rash choice, pause for a second. Visualize your future goal, and then make your decision.