How to Make Healthy Food and Healthy Lifestyle Choices Now

Woman thinking about making a choice now or later

You can learn how to control your impulses and delay gratification to make healthy decisions, avoid temptations and reap better, long-term benefits over small, immediate rewards.

Today’s Loss Is Tomorrow’s Gain

Picture this: You’re walking down the beach, trip over a half-buried lamp and out bursts a genie. But this is no ordinary genie — it’s a delay genie, and he’ll only grant you one wish right away or three wishes in a year’s time.

Three wishes are obviously more than one, but a year is a long time to wait. So you have the impulse to make that one wish right now. Don’t feel bad — we’re inclined to choose immediate gratification over greater future rewards. This common trait behavior is called future discounting.

But we don’t live in a world of magic lamps. We exist in a time of 401k plans and long-term educational goals, a world where we could eat 10,000 calories at a sitting. And research shows that success is linked to self-discipline to choose options that benefit us in the future instead of doing what feels good in the moment.

Extroverts may face a harder time than introverts choosing the future over the present. (Who wants to worry about the future when you’re partying in the moment with friends?) And some people have addiction problems linked to the instant gratification that future discounting provides.

Here are some tips to gain more self-control so you can choose those three future wishes over that measly immediate wish.

Learn from the Past You

Forming new habits is a great way to gain self-control and minimize future discounting. When a coworker shows up with doughnuts every morning, the sweet taste of sugary dough seems a lot more rewarding than the healthier results if you stick to your diet plan. But if you got in the habit of making a delicious smoothie every morning, you can reward yourself with a filling treat and avoid the hunger pangs that say, “Doughnut now!” Changing your habits can take away the future discounting choice altogether and replace it with an automatic action.

Trick the Current You 

When faced with a present-versus-future choice, change your wording to make it clear you’ll have zero reward down the line if you take the immediate option.

Don’t say: “I could have one wish now or three later.”

Say: “I can have three wishes in a year and zero now, or one wish now and zero in a year.”

This simple wording change helps us understand how much we’re giving up if we go for the immediate reward.

Here’s another tip: Diminish the delay by using specific dates: “I could have three wishes on December 31 or one wish now.” This puts the quantities at the forefront of your mind, instead of how long you’d have to wait between now and then.

Remember the Future You

Sometimes you forget that the future you is you. That future person feels like a stranger, and we aren’t keen on the idea of skipping our morning doughnut so that some abstract philosophical concept that resembles you (but doesn’t exist yet) can lose a few pounds and feel healthier. But research shows that when we remember the future you is still going to be you — just a little ways down the temporal road — it’s a lot easier to choose the option that benefits us the most. So visualize the future you when faced with tough decisions and make the best long-term decision for you both.

It isn’t easy to choose what you could have tomorrow instead of what you really want today. But with the right state of mind, your choices will shower you with more benefits.

Now choose your future, so you’ll be Healthy for Good!