Is Present Bias Interfering with Your Health & Financial Goals?

I know you are asking “How can a topic cover both health and finances?” It can; let me explain. I came across the topic of present bias while I was listening to a podcast from Charles Schwab called Financial Decoder. Since it was on a financial podcast, of course they were discussing how it impacts people financially. However, as I was listening to this podcast, I started thinking of how I have seen this phenomenon as a health and fitness coach numerous times. So how does present bias impact health and financial goals? Let’s start with what present bias is.



What is Present Bias?


Present bias is the choice to take a smaller reward now then to wait for a bigger reward in the future. In other terms, being impatient and wanting immediate gratification. This is often seen in regards to saving money. For example, let’s say you receive a $1000 bonus from work. Do you deposit it in your savings or ROTH account, or do you spend it on something you have been wanting (not needing)? People with a higher level of present bias will spend the money right away. Those with a low level of present bias will put the money in something that has interest with the intent to have more that a $1000 after one year. In addition to savings, present bias impacts the probability of debt one will have. The need for immediate gratification will lead to poor money management and will lead to a higher likelihood of having debt.


How Does Present Bias Relate to Health?


Immediate gratification is not a behavior which impacts finances only, it is also apparent in other aspects of one’s life, like health. I have seen this both as a fitness trainer and as a behavioral health counselor. In fitness, the present bias concept tends to involve a trade off of time and effort for long term health benefits. Since exercising does not show immediate health benefits, people put less weight on it as a priority and will focus their time on something which will show immediate benefits. An example of this is cardio exercising to help maintain or increase heart health.


Another example I have seen in fitness is in regards to weight loss. It is not uncommon for people to want fast weight loss even though it took months or years to put the weight on. They want an easy fix which does not take a lot of time nor effort. The negative side to wanting immediate gratification in regards to weight loss, is that the faster you take off the weight, the greater the probability of putting that weight plus more, back on within five years.

As a counselor working in medical settings with clients, I saw this quite often when it came to care of one’s health. Here, I am referring to the minor health issues which has often been found to be managed with diet and exercise. More often than not, I have seen people want a pill to fix the health issue rather than trying to diet and exercise. For them, a pill is seen to resolve the issue faster without having to take time and focus away from another area in their life in order diet and exercise.


Managing Your Present Bias


Having present bias is not a negative behavior as long as it is not impacting your goals, whether they are financial, health, relationships, career or fitness centered. If you find that your goals are being impacted by this behavior and you want to make some changes but are not sure if you can overcome it, guess what? You can and it is completely achievable. It will just take some time and effort on your part and you will be able to get right back on track.


Here are a few tips to help you along the way on your journey to achieving your goals. First, I would like you to revisit your goals and see if they still fit your overall life goals and lifestyle. Hopefully you have them written down, if not, write them down now. If they are already written down, evaluate them and tweak any goal that needs to be tweaked. Next, review your habits and behaviors and see if there are any contradicting your goals. For the ones you find, try to think of ways to help you change these habits and behaviors. Self-talk is a great tool for this as it will help you refocus on what is important to you. Finally, set up some small rewards for yourself for when you make any positive changes. It will help keep the motivation up and keep reminding you of your goals.


My Present Bias


Yes, I love to save money, but I do like to spend it as well and I have a great example which just occurred today of my present bias. My “emergency fund” account as recently taken a hit due to the recent pandemic and the loss of my job. So, one of my short-term goals is to restore that fund. Today, I found myself at a large chain store getting some groceries and dog food. As I walked around the store, I found the movie bin which is a weakness of mine. I love getting movies cheap and I have 100+ movies right now. As I am searching the bin, I come across a 2-pack for $5. I toss it in my cart without much thought only to take it back out 30 seconds later while asking myself if I really wanted these movies. This went on 2 more times with the same movie pack. Eventually, I told myself I really didn’t need it and I will put the $5 I would have spent on it into my savings. After all, I got me a goal! Yes, I literally said that last sentence when I was in the store. I’m telling you this because even though I am pretty good at managing of my money, I too have to remind myself of my goals and focus on what is a higher priority for me.


I hope you found this article useful and if you have any questions, please email me at bodyandmindstrong@gmail.com (I will NOT use your email for any type of mailer list or spam!)


One last thing!

Make sure you do at least one thing today that will get

you one step closer to one of your goals!

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