“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius
Do you ever find yourself struggling to resist a tempting treat or put off procrastinating until the last minute?
These are just a few examples of self-control challenges that we face in our daily lives.
But did you know that these struggles are often driven by underlying biases that affect our decision-making processes?
By understanding these biases, we can gain insight into our behaviors and develop strategies to improve our self-control.
In this list, we’ll explore 12 self-control biases, from present bias to temptation bundling bias, and provide real-life examples to help you understand and overcome them.
So let’s dive in and take a closer look at how our minds can lead us astray when it comes to self-control.
What are Self-Control Biases?
Self-control biases refer to the cognitive and behavioral tendencies that lead to poor self-control, resulting in suboptimal decision-making and impulse control.
These biases can include procrastination, lack of willpower, impulsive behavior, and the tendency to seek immediate gratification over long-term rewards.
Essentially, self-control biases are the internal factors that hinder one’s ability to maintain self-discipline and achieve their goals.
Here are some common self-control biases:
- Delay discounting bias: This bias refers to the tendency to choose immediate rewards over larger but delayed rewards in the future.
- Ego depletion bias: This is the belief that your willpower or self-control is limited and can be depleted like a muscle that tires after exertion.
- Emotional reasoning bias: This bias occurs when we make decisions based on our emotions instead of rational thinking.
- Hyperbolic discounting bias: This bias is similar to delay discounting bias but is more extreme, where the value of the reward decreases disproportionately as the delay increases.
- Impulsivity bias: This bias refers to the tendency to act on impulse without fully considering the consequences.
- Intertemporal choice bias: This is similar to the delay discounting bias and refers to the tendency to choose smaller immediate rewards over larger delayed rewards.
- Present bias: This is the tendency to focus on immediate gratification rather than long-term goals and rewards.
- Procrastination bias: This refers to the tendency to delay or postpone tasks that require effort or self-discipline, often resulting in negative consequences.
- Self-justification bias: This occurs when we try to justify our actions, even if they are not in our best interest or against our values.
- Self-serving bias: This is the tendency to attribute positive outcomes to our own abilities and negative outcomes to external factors.
- Temptation bundling bias: This involves pairing a desirable activity with an undesirable one to increase motivation and decrease procrastination.
- Willpower depletion bias: This is similar to ego depletion bias, where the belief is that our willpower or self-control can be depleted over time and that we need to take breaks and recharge.
Examples of How To Use the Self-Control Biases to Think and Do Better
Here are examples how by knowing the self-control biases you can think and do better:
- Delay discounting bias: By recognizing that we often place a greater value on immediate rewards over long-term benefits, we can set strategies to overcome this bias and make choices that better serve our long-term goals. An example of delay discounting bias is when a person chooses to receive a smaller reward immediately instead of waiting for a larger reward in the future. For instance, someone might choose to eat a piece of cake now instead of waiting a week to eat a healthier dessert, even though they know the healthier dessert will be more beneficial in the long run.
- Ego depletion bias: By acknowledging that our willpower and decision-making abilities are finite, we can prioritize important decisions earlier in the day and delegate lower-priority tasks to later in the day when our willpower is depleted. An example of ego depletion bias is when a person spends a significant amount of time and effort in completing a task that requires self-control, such as resisting temptations or making difficult decisions. As a result, they may experience a decrease in their ability to exert self-control in subsequent tasks, even if they are unrelated. For instance, if a person spends the whole day avoiding eating junk food, they may find it harder to resist the urge to buy unnecessary items while shopping for groceries later in the day.
- Emotional reasoning bias: By recognizing that our emotions can cloud our judgment and decision-making, we can take time to step back and evaluate situations more objectively before making a decision. Emotional reasoning bias is the tendency to make decisions based on emotions rather than objective facts or evidence. An example of emotional reasoning bias could be a person deciding not to take a job offer because they felt nervous during the interview, even though the job offered better pay and opportunities for career growth than their current job. In this case, the person let their emotions and feelings of nervousness influence their decision, rather than objectively weighing the pros and cons of the job offer.
- Hyperbolic discounting bias: By recognizing that we often undervalue future rewards, we can make conscious decisions to prioritize and commit to long-term goals. An example of hyperbolic discounting bias is when you choose to have immediate small rewards over larger delayed rewards. For instance, choosing to spend money on a night out with friends instead of saving that money for a future vacation, despite knowing that the future vacation will provide greater satisfaction in the long run.
- Impulsivity bias: By recognizing that we are prone to making impulsive decisions without fully considering the consequences, we can take steps to slow down and think through our options before making a decision. An example of impulsivity bias is when someone makes a spontaneous purchase that they cannot afford or engage in an activity without considering the potential consequences. For instance, someone who struggles with impulsivity bias may impulsively buy a car they can’t afford or make a big purchase without considering their long-term financial goals.
- Intertemporal choice bias: By recognizing that we often struggle with balancing short-term and long-term goals, we can develop strategies to prioritize and balance both in our decision-making. Intertemporal choice bias is the tendency to prioritize short-term rewards over long-term benefits. An example of this bias is when someone chooses to spend money on immediate gratification, such as buying a new expensive item, rather than investing that money for long-term benefits, such as saving for retirement or paying off debt. This can lead to financial problems in the future, when the person may not have enough money to cover their expenses or meet their financial goals.
- Present bias: By recognizing that we often prioritize immediate gratification over future benefits, we can focus on building a habit of delayed gratification and long-term planning. An example of present bias is when a person chooses to indulge in immediate pleasures or benefits rather than focusing on long-term goals or benefits. For instance, someone might choose to spend their money on a fancy dinner or new clothes instead of saving it for their retirement or paying off debt. This bias can lead to short-term satisfaction but may have negative consequences in the future.
- Procrastination bias: By recognizing that we often procrastinate tasks that require effort or discomfort, we can break tasks into smaller, more manageable steps and establish accountability to motivate us to get started. An example of procrastination bias is a student who has a term paper due in a week but waits until the night before it’s due to start working on it, even though they had plenty of time to work on it earlier.
- Self-justification bias: By recognizing that we often seek to justify our decisions and actions, even when they are not objectively rational, we can seek out alternative perspectives and feedback to challenge our assumptions. Self-justification bias is a cognitive bias where people justify their own actions or decisions, even if they are clearly wrong or harmful. An example of self-justification bias is a person who buys an expensive item even if they can’t afford it and justify it by saying that they deserve it, or that they will work hard to make up the money later. Another example could be a person who engages in unhealthy behavior, such as smoking or overeating, and justifies it by saying they need to destress or that they have a genetic predisposition.
- Self-serving bias: By recognizing that we often attribute our successes to our own abilities and external factors, while attributing failures to external factors, we can take ownership of our mistakes and learn from them to improve our decision-making. An example of self-serving bias is when a student attributes their good grades to their intelligence and hard work, while attributing their poor grades to external factors such as a difficult exam or an unfair teacher.
- Temptation bundling bias: By recognizing that we often struggle with self-control in the face of temptation, we can bundle desirable activities with less desirable ones to increase our motivation and self-control. Temptation bundling bias occurs when we combine something we enjoy doing with something we don’t enjoy as much to make the less enjoyable task more appealing. For example, someone who dislikes running may bundle it with something enjoyable like watching their favorite TV show or listening to an audiobook while they run. This makes the task more appealing and provides a motivation to follow through with it. Another example could be someone who pairs their morning coffee with their daily journaling or meditation practice. This bundling technique can help people overcome procrastination or resistance towards tasks they find challenging or unappealing.
- Willpower depletion bias: By recognizing that our willpower is a finite resource that can be depleted, we can develop habits and routines that conserve our willpower for more important decisions throughout the day. An example of willpower depletion bias is when a person goes on a strict diet and successfully resists unhealthy food choices for the entire day, but then gives in to temptation and overeats at night because their willpower has been depleted throughout the day.
Know Your Self-Control Biases to Think and Do Better
Self-control biases can be a significant hurdle to making informed decisions, achieving our goals, and being more productive.
From procrastination and ego depletion to emotional reasoning and self-justification, these biases can cloud our judgment and make it challenging to follow through on our intentions.
However, by recognizing and understanding these biases, we can become better critical thinkers and develop strategies to overcome them, leading to more successful outcomes and improved well-being.
And remember the immortal words of Plato:
“The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself.” — Plato
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