Is Present Bias Interfering with Your Health and Financial Goals?

Updated: Jun 9


I know you are asking “How can a topic cover both health and finances?” It can, and it also cover mental health goals; let me explain. I came across the topic of present bias while I was listening to a podcast from Charles Schwab called Financial Decoder. Since it was on a financial podcast, of course they were discussing how it impacts people financially. However, as I was listening to this podcast, I started thinking of how I have seen this phenomenon as a therapist, health and fitness coach numerous times. So how does present bias impact health and financial goals? Let’s start with what present bias is.


What is Present Bias?

Present bias is the choice to take a smaller reward now instead of waiting for a bigger reward in the future. In other terms, being impatient and wanting immediate gratification. This is often seen in regard to saving money. For example, let’s say you receive a $1000 bonus from work. Do you deposit it in your savings or ROTH account, or do you spend it on something you have been wanting (not needing)? People with a higher level of present bias will spend the money right away. Those with a low level of present bias will put the money in something that has interest with the intent to have more than a $1000 after one year. In addition to savings, present bias impacts the probability of debt one will have. The need for immediate gratification will lead to poor money management and will lead to a higher likelihood of having debt.


How Does Present Bias Relate to Health?

Immediate gratification is not a behavior which impacts finances only, it is also apparent in other aspects of one’s life, like health, both physically and mentally. I have seen this both as a fitness trainer and as a behavioral health counselor. In fitness, the present bias concept tends to involve a tradeoff of time and effort for long term health benefits. Since exercising does not show immediate health benefits, people put less weight on it as a priority and will focus their time on something which will show immediate benefits. An example of this is cardio exercising to help maintain or increase heart health.


As a counselor working in medical settings with clients, I saw this quite often when it came to care of one’s health. Here, I am referring to the minor health issues which has often been found to be managed with diet and exercise. More often than not, I have seen people want a pill to fix the health issue rather than trying to diet and exercise. For them, a pill is seen to resolve the issue faster without having to take time and focus away from another area in their life in order diet and exercise.


In addition, it’s not just diet and exercise people have a tendency to want to avoid, selfcare and coping techniques have a tendency to be avoided as well. Selfcare and coping techniques that not only help manage physical health issues, but mental health issues as well are often seen as “too much work” from some. Yes, I have actually heard that from a few patients.


Managing Your Present Bias

Having present bias is not a negative behavior as long as it is not impacting your goals, whether they are financial, mental health, relationships, career or fitness centered. If you find that your goals are being impacted by this behavior and you want to make some changes but are not sure if you can overcome it, guess what? You can and it is completely achievable. It will just take some time and effort on your part, and you will be able to get right back on track.


Here are a few tips to help you along the way on your journey to achieving your goals. First, I would like you to revisit your goals and see if they still fit your overall life goals and lifestyle. Hopefully you have them written down, if not, write them down now. If they are already written down, evaluate them and tweak any goal that needs to be tweaked. Next, review your habits and behaviors and see if there are any contradicting your goals. For the ones you find, try to think of ways to help you change these habits and behaviors. Self-talk is a great tool for this as it will help you refocus on what is important to you. However, there are many more, so do some brainstorming and see what you come up with. Finally, set up some small rewards for yourself for when you make any positive changes. It will help keep the motivation up and keep reminding you of your goals.


I hope you found this article useful and if you have any questions, please email me at renee@summittrailcs.com (I will NOT use your email for any type of mailer list or spam!)


One last thing! Make sure you do at least one thing today that will

get you one step closer to one of your goals!


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