I Want It, and I Want it
The Immediate
Gratification Bias
Patience doesn’t always help,
but impatience never does.
Sheri Weiner grew up in relative affluence. She got a car when she
turned 16. Her dad gave her a credit card for her 17th birthday. Her folks
paid her college tuition and sent her a check each month to cover her
additional college expenses. Sheri never really grasped concepts like
budgets, saving money, or delaying immediate gratification. When she saw
something she wanted, she bought it.
Sheri is now 25. She has a full-time job, a nicely furnished apartment, a
well-stocked wardrobe closet, and a huge stack of bills. A week doesn’t go
by that she doesn’t get a call from one of her creditors asking for money.
When I asked Sheri how much she owed, she thought for a moment and
then said, “I have to admit, I’m not really sure. If you count all my credit
cards, I’d guess about $15,000. Sheri guessed wrong! Finally fed up with
the constant hassles from collection agencies, she went to a bill-
consolidation service. They carefully tallied up her credit card debts—all
$37,000 of them! Moreover, they showed Sheri that her $400 minimum
monthly payment on those cards wasn’t even covering the $550 a month
she was accumulating in interest. Sheri was dumbfounded. How did she
get herself into this mess?
Sheri is not unique. More than 65 percent of U.S. households pay interest
on credit card balances.
And, in 2001, that average balance was $7,034.
“Buy now. Pay later!” has become the mantra of consumers in much of
the industrialized world. For many people, it’s very hard to delay immediate
gratification. Interestingly, this behavior is essentially the opposite of
procrastination. Both are self-control problems, but one relates to the
preference for inertia while the other reflects a present-biased preference.
In addition, both behaviors are one-part personality and one-part
situational. Look back at your results for impulsiveness in Chapter 8. If
you scored more than 70 on that test, you are likely to have difficulty in
postponing immediate gratification. As you’ll see, there are rewards and
costs that lead all of us toward preferring the immediate over the long-
term. Yet some people have become quite proficient at learning how to
control the immediate gratification bias.
As human beings, we suffer from
the tendency to want to grab for
immediate rewards and to avoid
immediate costs.
If it feels good,
we want to do it now. If it implies
pain, we want to postpone it.
Why is it hard to diet, quit
smoking, or avoid credit card
debt? Each comes with an
immediate reward—tasty food,
an enjoyable cigarette, or an
immediate purchase—and each
delays its costs to some nebulous future.
In recent years, the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) has gotten a great
deal of attention.
The evidence indicates that people with strong EI have
Why is it so hard to diet,
quit smoking, or avoid
credit card debt? Each
comes with an immediate
reward, and each delays
its costs to some nebulous

Get Decide & Conquer: Make Winning Decisions and Take Control of Your Life now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.