Thinking Ahead

The two of us were jogging past the MIT chapel today, so we dropped in to catch the tail end of the service. The priest was talking about sinning. The upshot was that rather than trying to fight temptation, we should simply avoid it. For instance, alcoholics probably shouldn’t go to bars. People in long distance relationships shouldn’t go to stoplight parties. A friend of mine who has the bad habit of ordering the most expensive entree on the menu, saves money by eating exclusively at Dunkin’ Donuts.

This is good advice, and it comes up over and over. A recent TED talk mentioned that people are overly-optimistic about their capacity for self-control in the future. If an individual is asked whether he would rather have a banana or a chocolate tomorrow, he will probably opt for the banana. But when tomorrow comes and he has to make the decision, he chooses the chocolate. The same is true in the context of saving money. We think we will save, but we don’t. The speaker’s solution then, was to get people to commit ahead of time to saving future income.

The same tricks work when it comes to your routine. We’ve written frequently and encouragingly about expanding your comfort zone, but that can be an uncomfortable process. It’s hard to start a workout regimen or to pick up an instrument. It’s easy to step off the steep end of the learning curve, especially when no one is there to hold you accountable. If you’re a smoker, it’s simpler to defer quitting until later. If you’re shy, it’s easier to wait until after college to meet people. But if you want something to happen down the road, you may have to start working at it today. Here are some ways you can do this.

Groupon isn’t worth fifteen billion dollars, but local deals can incentivize, and subsequently obligate you, to try new restaurants, gyms, and hair salons. They also encourage you to invite others along, since these vouchers are always packaged in some form of “tasting menu for two.” You may not be able to go this weekend, but at some point before the expiration date, you’ll probably think “crap, I’ve spent money on this” and drag a friend off to try Eritrean food in Jamaica Plain.

Join organizations and take on commitments which will force you to become better at something you aren’t already good at. A brilliant friend of ours could have had his pick of the presidencies of any of the fauxfessional finance clubs on campus. Instead, he joined the ballroom dance team. Not because he’s particularly graceful, but because he so precisely isn’t. He improved his dancing, and they improved their gender ratio. It’s a contrived situation in which he confronts his discomforts and feels up hot girls in cocktail napkins. Win-win!

-Ren and Robert