Hyperbolic Discounting: The Invisible Force Preventing Addiction Recovery

In episode 298 of the Elevation Recovery Podcast, Matt Finch discusses the concept of hyperbolic discounting, the act of discounting future delayed gratifications in favor of short-term gratification.

We all have the tendency to default to this train of thinking. Because of this, Matt provides tips and strategies to delay gratification in order to have a healthier recovery and lifestyle in the long run.   

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Announcer: Thanks for tuning in to the Elevation Recovery Podcast, your hub for Addiction Recovery Strategies, hosted by Chris Scott and Matt Finch.

Matt Finch: Welcome to episode 298 of Elevation Recovery. I'm your host, Matt Finch, and in today's episode, you're going to learn all about hyperbolic discounting, the invisible force preventing alcohol and or drug addiction recovery. We're going to go deep into what hyperbolic discounting is, which is a cognitive bias where we discount future delayed gratification rewards in favor of short-term instant gratification rewards. For people that really want to successfully quit drinking or drugs, or both, the more you can learn the skill of delaying gratification and not giving in to the poll of instant gratification, the easier it'll be in the long term to have a healthy lifestyle drug and alcohol free. Without further ado, let's get right into this training.

All right, so here we go. I just like this term. I don't know about you, but I think that's a cool name, hyperbolic discounting, the invisible force preventing addiction recovery. I learned about hyperbolic discounting many, many, many years ago, wrote some articles on it, and in the past, I had a YouTube video on it too, on one of my older channels. But this is something that's invisible, that is a default brain wiring innate state, and let's get right into it. So have you ever had a long-term goals that haven't been achieved due to getting distracted in the short-term pleasure through instant gratification? If so, you're in very, very good company, and that is we all have to some degree, a default brain wiring of hyperbolic discounting, which leads to a strong innate preference for instant gratification. The definition of instant gratification is something along the lines of instant or immediate gratification is a term that refers to the temptation and resulting tendency to forego a future benefit to obtain a less rewarding but more immediate benefit.

There has been an evolutionary advantage for this cognitive bias. So I like to teach people that imagine back in the hunter and gatherer era, well, that was focused primarily on daily survival that is hunting for the food, gathering the food in the water, and also defending from predators and even defending from other human beings. So back then there was no option. Let's say the men, the hunters, while the women were gathering the berries and the water and the other supplies, the men hunted and they speared a really big pig. Well, back then they were going to eat the pig that day and survive. There was no option back then to eat the pig or put it in a pig 401k, and then in 40 years get a payout of a hundred pigs. So literally, our brains are still wired for choosing, for preferring, for valuing more greatly instant gratification versus future benefits, future rewards.

So the further the potential future benefits or future rewards are the more we're said to discount them hyperbolic discounting. So if somebody offered you a hundred dollars today, you might take it if they were going to say you could have $100 today or $500 in two years from now, even though it's five times more money, since the hundred dollars is immediate instant gratification, and the two years is a long time to wait for the much bigger reward. That's how the tendency works. The further off something is in the future as a reward, the more we're likely to discount the potency, the resiliency of that future off reward.

Dopamine Nation. I read a book recently, I guess it wasn't too recently now, it must have been a year ago, but time is flying, it seems recently called Dopamine Nation, something along the lines of finding moderation in the age of indulgence, something along those lines by Dr. Anna Lembke. The whole basis of the book is that our modern society provides an abundance of easy and expensive and fast access to dopamine boosters, instant raters in all sorts of different forms from the internet to other technology, TV, junk food, sweets, alcohol, drugs, pornography, social media, and much more.

Nowadays, it's harder than ever before for people to avoid the pull and the salience and the desirability of all the different fast fixes for instant gratification in the ways just mentioned and more. So this is becoming more and more of a important topic than ever before. Really each day that goes on, this is becoming more important as so much of our society becomes programmed to give up on our future, far off long term goals and projects in favor of just living day to day, getting quick, instant gratification, fixes, instant gratification, instant pleasure, procrastination, distraction, entertainment, et cetera.

And with that being said, I highly recommend as a book for everyone to read, not just people that are currently have an alcohol or drug or another type of behavior addiction or any... matter of fact this is a great exercise right now if you want to learn more about this. In fact, here's a great exercise for you too. Put on your to-do list or your planner or your notes to either read the book Dopamine Nation or listen to the audible or just do the Dopamine Nation, Dr. Anna Lembke search on YouTube. And there is a great podcast interview where Andrew Huberman with Huberman Labs Podcast interviews her on Dopamine Nation, so that could be a good exercise for you.

Moving along, we also have FOMO. That is the fear of missing out. So a lot of people will habitually check the phone, check the tablet and other devices for news updates, new videos, new social media posts, et cetera, due to a strongly programmed fear of missing out. I do this sometimes too. Oh, let me check this kind of obsession, to check the phone, to check the email, or to check YouTube or to check something as a fear of missing out. Oh, maybe there's some new good news or new posts or something. So a lot of us, some people, to a very strong degree, our program for the fear of missing out, this is also why a lot of people have a hard time quitting drinking and staying quit, fear of missing out on all the fun that they can have with alcohol.

And so it's just FOMO is a very strong program when we get FOMO in the brain, but there is a way to rewire instant gratification for delayed gratification and rewire fear of missing out for the joy of opting out. Moving along, I found something very cool online that is psychologist Shahram Heshmat's 10 reasons why instant gratification is hard to sidestep.

Reason number one is a desire to avoid delay. Their reason is it's uncomfortable to engage in self denial, and all of our instincts are to seize any opportunity for pleasure as it comes. Reason number two is uncertainty. Generally, we are born with nearly infinite certainty and trust in others, but over time, we learned to be less sure of the reliability of others and of our future. This uncertainty can't cause us to value the less beneficial, but certain and immediate over the more beneficial, uncertain in long term. That is really profound. The longer the more uncertainty we have in our lives, and a lot of people that get into addiction in the first place is because of childhood trauma as one of the reasons which changes the brain and makes things feel more unsafe, uncertain, more fearful, more neurotic about the future and about people and about trustability and reliability of people.

So now all of a sudden, this uncertainty, well, I want to get this instant gratification because I know it's going to be a certain and immediate benefit versus making the difficult changes in the new habits over the long term and then hopefully getting a reward in the long term future. So as you can see, it's no wonder why we're by default wired for instant gratification. Some of us more so than others for sure, you can be innately heavily wired for instant gratification. And of course it comes down to nurture and nature, depending on how much we can wire ourselves, either by default or through our own wiring, through lifestyle changes to become more and more into delayed gratification.

Number three is age. So as you've likely already noted, younger people have a tendency to be more impulsive while older people with more life experience are better able to delay and temper their urges. This is certainly true with myself. When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was a psycho animal. I was so impulsive, I would make the most horrible impulsive decisions time after time again and just wouldn't learn my lessons. Now, I'm 43 and I have a lot more wisdom. I am much, much, much less impulsive nowadays through age and wisdom.

Number four is imagination. Choosing delayed gratification requires the ability to envision your desired future if you forego your current desire. If you cannot paint a vivid picture of your future, you have little motivation to plan for it. This is so important, and this is a concept I've been thinking about a lot lately over the past few months, if not longer, and that is that when I was growing up, we didn't have smartphones, we didn't even have any cool techno. We had really lame old 1980s TVs and 1980s computers. There was no tablets, there was no smartphones or anything like that, not even text messaging. This is before we even had caller id. We didn't even have a cordless phone. We didn't have caller id.

So back then in the 1980s, it was really easy to use your imagination to imagine things a lot. There was so much less stimulation, digital stimulation, all this new content and media and technologies and things like that. So my imagination was great. Nowadays, with all the technology and all the different social media channels and with their advancement in so many different content creators, I think a lot of the world is being programmed to not use their imagination near as much as we are optimized doing so.

And that's a problem because for these significant big goals like achieving alcohol recovery or drug recovery or starting a new business, any of these types of goals, creating a health transformation, a fitness transformation, we have to be able to imagine that desired outcome and we have to have a burning desire to achieve it. There's not really any other way of achieving really hard long-term goals or projects. We have to be able to see ourselves living that future. And the more we can imagine it and vividly picture it and assume the feeling of the wish fulfilled, the more we're able to manifest that and to happening, the more motivation and resilience and perseverance and diligence and consistency and repetition over the long term we can initiate and then sustain. So imagination is huge, and I think there is becoming more and more so a lack of imagination in today's age.

Number five is cognitive capacity. So higher intelligence is actually linked to a more forward thinking perspective. Those who are born with more innate intelligence have a tendency to see the benefits of delayed gratification and act in accordance. One of the things I learned from Dr. Jordan Peterson and talking about the big five personality test is that typically the people that are the most successful and happy and least impulsive and everything are people that in the big five personality tests rate high in conscientiousness and intellect. So cognitive capacity is huge. Look at Elon Musk, look at Steve Jobs, look at a lot of these people have very high intelligence, innate intelligence that they have nurtured and developed into various different skills and mental models, and so they're more easily able to see the benefits of delayed gratification and then act in accordance. So this makes a lot of sense.

Drugs and alcohol and other types of things, behavior, addictions, they can actually disrupt, disable, erode are cognitive capacity to where there's some drugs that can enhance our cognitive capacity like Adderall, like Adrafinil, like various other stimulant type things, dopamine reuptake inhibitors and other types of stimulants. Even over the counter Nootropics.

But a lot of things, alcohol, opioids, cannabis, heroin, and then especially with a unhealthy diet and not healthy sleep when we're using drugs and or alcohol, when we have a lot of stress in life there, getting food additives and chemicals and pollution in the environment, there is just a never ending barrage, a constant 24/7 attack with harmful electromagnetic frequencies from internet and 5G. Bombs that went off decades and decades ago, still polluting and disrupting our global ecosystem. I mean, our cognitive capacity can go down and down. There's so many different variables. Mental, physical, environmental, emotional stressors that can make decline our cognitive capacity, and then the worse off our cognitive capacity is typically the more difficult it is to delay gratification and the easier it is, and the more habitually we take part in instant gratification, which becomes not just habitualized but part of our identity for that phase of life.

So anyways, moving on six, poverty. Even when we see the wisdom in delaying gratification, poverty can make the decision complicated and even more difficult. If you have an immediate basic need that is begging to be met, e.g. Food, shelter, it's unlikely you will choose to forego that need in order to receive any future benefit. This is probably one of the biggest ones out of these 10 reasons, poverty. Oh, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. So many people will become really, really habitualized into daily instant gratification due in large part to poverty. It's so difficult when people are living very impoverished lives where it's hard to even eat, hard to pay rent, hard to put food on the table, hard to meet their basic needs. That doesn't leave a lot of willpower, consciousness, and agency to really go through hard times to delay gratification because things are already so impoverished.

So it's basically any chance you can get an ahead of instant gratification to make things more okay during the day, then that . I've seen that in myself. The times that I've been the most impoverished in life, that was definitely when I was partaking in the most instant gratification. Number seven, impulsiveness. We've done an episode or maybe even two on impulsivity in its relationship to addiction, big time, direct relationship. Typically, the more impulsive someone is, the more they are prone to addiction and the more they're prone to relapse as well in instant gratification as well. So some of us are simply more impulsive or spontaneous than others, which makes delaying gratification that much more difficult. This trait is associated with problems like substance abuse and obesity. A lot of people in today's age have ADHD and or are impulsive. Some people are just impulsive without ADHD. Some people are impulsive with ADHD, some people are neither. But it seems like our society's more programmed for impulsiveness, instant gratification, procrastination, distraction, numbing, escapism, and all that jazz. And it makes sense.

Just look at the state of the world we're in, the uncertainty, the poverty, all these things are making it more difficult for people to visualize far off future rewards and visions for their life and go through the delaying of gratification over the long term. And it's having that forward long term thinking and behaving is just getting harder and harder for a lot of people to do. And impulsiveness plays a big part. You can also rewire yourself to be less impulsive, less instant gratifying, more delayed gratification, less impulsiveness. These are all skills that yes, when it comes to nature and nurture, we did have a kind of set level of these types of things, but we through neuroplasticity and epigenetics and nutrigenomics, we can actually change our brains, change our personalities, at least in ways, strong enough to get more of what we want and get less of what we don't want and really create the life of our dreams. We can do that. Every person has the ability to do that, and it's different of how they can do that for each person. There's so many different variables.

Number eight is emotion regulation. That is individual differences in emotion. Regulation also impact our tendency towards instant versus delayed gratification. Emotional distress makes us lean towards choices that will immediately improve our mood, and those who have developed emotion regulation problems are especially at risk. A lot of the times, people that become habitual drinkers of alcohol or users of drugs, whether it's recreational use, regular use, or abuse or a disorder or an addiction, depending on the severity of it. And this can lead to, so a lot of people will take up regular use of alcohol or drugs to boost their mood, to help with emotion regulation, better living through chemistry, self-medicating you might have heard that term before.

That's emotion regulation through self-medication. There's emotion regulation through meditation. There's emotion regulation through journaling and therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. There's emotion regulation and empowering ways and neutral ways and in disempowering ways, ways that are a quick fix of emotion regulation. Drink a glass of wine or two, three or four shots of whiskey, smoke a joint and take three Percocet. Those are ways to regulate emotions to reduce bad emotions or unpleasant unwanted emotions and increase emotions that you do want. So that's a way of emotion regulation. The only problem is that the more you use that form of self-medication for emotion regulation, the more you become dependent on and needing that self-medication to be able to regulate emotions. Then all of a sudden, the more you rely upon substances or other types of instant gratification for emotion regulation, the less you're able to regulate your own emotions in healthy, empowering, more sustainable balancing in a more harmonious ways to that your mind, body, spirit system.

Nowadays, we have a huge mental health epidemic with different mental health disorders, from anxiety to depression, to bipolar disorder, to borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and so many other things going on. A lot of emotion issues, a lot of mental issues. Certainly these make it more difficult for the whole. And as far as choosing future far off rewards over the quick instant gratification benefits.

Number nine is mood. Even those with healthy mood regulation can be led astray by their current mood. We all experience bad moods, boredom and impatience, all of which serve to make immediate desires that much more seductive. So this is so common. The more somebody is in a bad mood, whether it's a fearful mood, an angry mood, an anxious mood, or the more bored they are, boredom's actually a form of depression, and impatience, all of these kind of non desirable mood affect states, all of these make it more desirable to drink the wine or to take the pill or to use the heroin or to smoke the joint or to do the methamphetamines, or to mix the cocaine with the Oxycontin or to binge drink, right?

Or to even just have a few glasses of some good red or white wine while you're making it with dinner. A bad day at work that's got a residual bad mood and impatience when you get home and the place is dirty and you're off at your husband or whatever. Or for another person, maybe they're home on the weekend and they have nothing to do. They're alone, they're single, they don't have any friends and don't have any kids, and they're bored to death. They work all week, and then on the weekends, they're without alcohol, they're bored, and so they drink to kill boredom and to get rid of the depression and tiredness and the fatigue as well. So I mean, this is really important stuff, and I think more important nowadays than ever before. And here we are going into 2023. January 1st is coming right up. I think probably everyone listening to this podcast or the vast majority could use more skills at delaying gratification, at becoming less impulsive, these types of things.

Number 10 is anticipation. Finally, the experience of anticipation can influence our decisions to delay gratification or seek it immediately in either direction. Humans generally like to anticipate positive things and dislike the anticipation of negative things, which can lead to decisions to put off things, to put things off, or to engage in them as quickly as possible to seek pleasure or avoid discomfort. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, this is so true. What I have a recent client that he had this positive anticipation for an upcoming vacation that was going to be amazing. And so he had this big, huge incentive to quit drinking and this big, huge positive anticipation of something to look forward to as well. Quit drinking, sober up, get healthy, and then boom, go on a really awesome vacation. That sounded super fun. I won't go into it, but it sounded really, really fun.

So these types of things, if we don't have anything positive to anticipate, it makes instant gratification give us something to anticipate. So we really need a sense of positive anticipation about our future, and the more we can build into our schedule, build into our calendar, things to positively anticipate that are not things like drinking drugs, these types of negative things. Say for instance, you get all your stuff done for the day that you wanted to get done, and then as a reward, you can watch an episode of one of your favorite shows, or maybe you plan a weekend getaway for two months into the future that gives you something to look forward to and you want to stay healthy for it. Because you don't want to be feeling like crap and not taking care of yourself and drinking too much or whatever it is when you go on that weekend getaway trip.

All right, so here are three examples of instant gratification. One, it could be the urge to indulge in a big giant chocolate fudge brownie and milk big glass of milk instead of a healthy snack. Number two, it could be the desire to hit the snooze in your alarm clock instead of getting up at 5:30 when you put your alarm clock for to go do a hour workout before you get ready for work for the day. And three, it could be the temptation to drink wine at home when you get home in the evening rather than go for a nature walk with a friend. So these are all examples of things where the instant gratification, dopamine hit positive, reward, pleasure, all that type of stuff can outweigh the more healthy alternative that's not going to give you as big of a dopamine and a feeling of instant pleasure and gratification.

Three ways to get better at resisting. You could empathize with your future self. You could pre-commitment. That means that you plan out certain decisions ahead of time. And number three is you could break big goals down into small chunks that makes it seem much less daunting. And please do not feel bad if you give in to instant gratification a lot and you're not able to delay it for more meaningful things. If you're in the habit of doing things that are expedient, instant pleasure or quick gratification versus more wired for your living a lifestyle that it takes a while for that lifestyle to really add up all the benefits. And you haven't got that necessarily avalanche from a snowball yet. But I want you not to feel bad because listen to this, technology and social media have basically made it exponentially more difficult to delay gratification than ever before.

Think about, go back to the 1980s, or geez, go back to the 1960s or the '50s. Go back to the 1850s. There was hardly anything back in the 1850s to give us all these huge instant dopamine hits. Like now we got the food made by scientists that make it as addictive as possible. People making Facebook and Instagram and TikTok, and they have the same types of researchers figuring out ways to make the platforms, the softwares as addictive as possible to spend the most time as possible. So, I mean, it's kind of a losing battle at this point, unless you want to go be a monk and a monastery or a nun, or you want to go live within aboriginal tribe somewhere in Australia or some other place where the indigenous tribes are still doing there, that lifestyle. In you're today's modern age and you have a smartphone with the internet and all that, and you're plugged into your devices on the regular, then all we can really do is damage control and develop as healthy of relationships as possible.

But I mean, you're still going to be giving into some instant gratification. I mean, everyone does. Even the most highest achievers, I'm sure, still give into instant gratification sometimes. So I mean, it's just skill though, and we can get better at it, but please don't beat yourself up for it or have shame or guilt because we're all only human here and we are not. I repeat not living, at least in our modern society, in the healthiest ways that are the healthiest for us for sure. It's kind of a weird little adjustments, a weird time to be alive. I'll tell you that right now. It is a awesome and weird time to be alive. Wow. Here's the antidote to instant gratification, delayed gratification. How do you do that? Well, the ability to have whatever you want in an instant weakens our self-regulation muscles and goal achievement requires self-awareness and the ability to delay gratification in favor of more desirable rewards at a later time.

While self-regulation may not be at the top of most of our lists of strengths, it is within all of us, it can grow like all other strengths. And now I'm going to leave you with five delayed gratification worksheets that are free online that you can print out and do, and these can help quite a bit. Number one is the avoidance plan worksheet. Two is the reward replacement worksheet. Three is abstraction work sheet. Four, the self-directed speech worksheet, and five the if then worksheet.

So I prepared this keynote presentation after doing a lot of in-depth research on one of my favorite websites called positivepsychology.com. They've got excellent, long, very in detail, in-depth research resource, thick articles, how-tos on instant gratification, delayed gratification, impulsivity, and so much more. All these type you can really learn a lot on that website. All of it is helpful for addiction recovery. And with that being said, the end, thanks so much as always, and can't wait to see you on the next episode. Take good care of yourself.

Chris Scott: Hey everyone, Chris Scott here. If you like the information on today's episode regarding supplementation and empowerment strategies for addiction recovery, then please subscribe to the Elevation Recovery Podcast and leave us a rating and review on iTunes. And if you benefited directly from this information, I'm confident in saying that you'll love the information packed online courses that Matt Finch and I have created. Matt Finch's, ultimate Opiate Detox 4.0 is a six module 30 activity course that contains video lessons, written lessons, PDF downloads, worksheets, audios, and much more. And it has everything you could possibly need to know to conquer opioid addiction in the easiest and most comfortable way possible.

My own course, total Alcohol Recovery 2.0 is the most cutting edge resource for anyone who wants to transcend alcohol and build their best lives. To get these courses to learn more and to read testimonials, simply go to opiateaddictionsupport.com/ultimate. Again, that's opiateaddictionsupport.com/ultimate. For Matt's course or for my course, go to fit-recovery.com/course. Again, that's fit-recovery.com/course. You can also go to elevationrecovery.com to see the show notes for this episode.

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