Stuff it, I’ll start exercising tomorrow...

In Neuro terms: Hyperbolic Discounting.

With Christmas just behind us, those extra servings of delectable desserts have converted into an annoying reminder around the waist that perhaps we shouldn’t have indulged quite so much. If your anything like me, your new year resolution probably goes something like this..”I hereby promise to exercise this year and lose that extra 5 kgs!” Well, this year has arrived and yet each morning I wake up with a range of excuses as to why I won’t be able to make it to the gym that day, but reinstate my promise that I’ll start ‘tomorrow’. I really do have the right intention! But why is it that the reward of a much fitter me isn’t enough to drive me to work out today?

Behavioural economics has provided us with an answer. Hyperbolic discounting is the tendency for people to discount the value of a benefit that will be gained at some point in the future, preferring instead an immediate reward. So the incentive of a better body and physical health 3 or 4 months from now is usually not enough to out-weigh the immediate reward of not exercising today. But why? Brain imaging studies suggest an interaction between (1) a weak neural representation of a delayed reward in the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens, and (2) poor activation of frontal processes involved in the inhibition of immediate gratification. So you may have a greater problem with hyperbolic discounting if you have an impulsive personality.

To overcome this bias we need to increase the value associated with your goal of exercising. There are several ways you can do this. Quantify in real dollars how much your goal is worth and penalise yourself each time you don’t go to the gym, have someone keep you in check and commit to a contract. A number of new applications like ‘Earndit’ and ‘Gym-Pact’ are using these principles to help people commit to the gym. So now you can earn cash just for going to the gym!