Ever been at an event, saw some food you knew was a bad idea (too much sugar, bread, salt, etc), and ate it anyway and felt terrible the next day? Well that’s how most of our lives are working in the grand scheme of things. We make decisions on far too small a cause and effect basis (so that the true effects are excluded), and then 12-24 hours later when the true effects appear, we complain about our circumstances.

In The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel, the principle of delayed gratification is made quite apparent in a very simple and short test. But the majority of us don’t realize the wide sweeping implications of this in our decision making.

When you’re facing a dilemma where a ‘pause‘ is needed, one of the most powerful things to do during that pause, is to consider how you’ll feel about the decision a specified amount of time later (usually 24 hours). Using the event example, let’s say you have the choice between eating a big slice of cake and drinking water. Thinking ahead 24 hours, you KNOW that you’re going to look back and regret eating the cake, and reward drinking the water. That’s the hindsight piece.

Then the trick is to maintain the vision of the future hindsight (“Ugh, why did I eat that”) in the present, and tie that future experience with the present decision. So instead of really amazing cake that you know will taste sweet and delicious in the immediate present, you start to overwrite that feeling with the future experience (“Yuck, I hate cake, I’ll skip it”).

Another example is the choice between reading a book and watching TV. Sure TV would be fun, but you know that by tomorrow you’ll have accomplished nothing, another unrecoverable day is gone, and you’ll be annoyed that you have even more work to do. So choosing to do work and put off the TV means you’ll have less to do tomorrow, and feel productive (which is a huge way to reduce depression etc).

Also fascinating is the fact that people already have access to and know what the primary regrets (low quality decisions) are of people at their passing. And yet, rarely do people act with the wisdom (applied knowledge) and keep that hindsight in sight. I think it’s a terrible tragedy that the knowledge of what people regret the most is widely public, and yet very few people shape their life to attempt to avoid them!

It’s about keeping your hindsight in sight by opening your decision making window to include the true causality nature of all choices. And the magic always comes when the next day you feel better because you didn’t eat the cake (it was a lie anyway), or that you got all that work done yesterday.