Luke Hutchison

TED Fellow,

This conversation is closed.

What are concrete ways to overcome the greatest human failing, giving up what we want most for what we want now (hyperbolic discounting)?

Hyperbolic discounting -- the tendency to discount the importance of future events, or the tendency to make choices from which we derive immediate benefit but that are inconsistent with our highest priorities -- is one of the most common cognitive biases and can give rise to many common human failings including procrastination, addiction, compulsive spending, the inability to keep New Years' resolutions etc. We all do it to a greater or lesser extent. It is at the root of all unrealized potential as well as many undesirable behaviors. It is also incredibly hard to "think your way out of" and is something that is hard to help talk someone else out of too.

I believe that one of the greatest contributions to the future of humanity would be for somebody to find a systematic, concrete and teachable way for help people bootstrap themselves out of negative cognitive and behavioral patterns that arise from hyperbolic discounting and other related negative cognitive biases. Creating a failsafe way to learn to be guided by our highest priorities and principles each day would allow each member of humanity to achieve their highest potential as well as contribute maximally to the good of the whole. The technique for solving these problems could include CBT-like treatments, but also biofeedback, meditation or anything else that can be proved completely effective. (I don't think we have found anything that genuinely works yet -- perhaps a combination of different techniques will be required?)

What concrete techniques have helped you to be true to your highest priorities and principles, even when making appropriate immediate choices is hard? What has helped you take action each day even when the cumulative positive effect of your daily choices and actions won't be truly apparent until far into the future?