• Clare Baker

Is 'Temporal Discounting' sabotaging your Clutter Clearing Journey?



'What is it?' I hear you say.....


It's when people consider small rewards NOW as more desirable than big rewards LATER.


How can it sabotage our Clutter Clearing Journey?


It can do several things. It can explain why we:


impulse buy things as small rewards or treats to ourselves NOW, even though we know we need to stop these to achieve our big reward of a Clutter Free Home LATER.


allow ourselves to get easily distracted from doing our Clutter Clearing Sessions by something that looks interesting on TV NOW, or a phone that's ringing NOW, or an e-mail that needs dealing with NOW, or a request for help from someone else (even if it's not something that has to be done NOW).


struggle to focus on creating new habits and routines that are big rewards LATER.


You can see it at work in society in many different ways - over-eating, over-spending, drugs - all involve instant reward without consideration for the long term effects.


To understand the problem and, more importantly what to do about it we need to know a few facts. Here are 5 facts about Temporal Discounting - and some practical advice on how to deal with each of them.


1. Temporal Discounting is actually perfectly normal.


Humans are thought to have evolved to prefer instant small rewards over future large rewards as a survival technique: do you take the fruits and berries available now as food and will feed just you for a matter of hours, or do you wait until you can down a woolly mammoth which will feed you and many others for a matter of weeks?


This happens a lot with my clients and members. They'll see something in the shops NOW that they believe will make them feel better NOW, or they feel more creative, more intelligent and knowledgeable, more useful.


Solution to overcoming this?


Give ourselves small rewards NOW as we work towards the bigger reward LATER.


The good news is that the Clutter Clearing Process already takes account of this Temporal Discounting by being a rewards based system - we reward ourselves each and every time we do a Clutter Clearing Session that's 30 minutes or longer.


We don't wait until it's all done to reward ourselves.


However, to make sure that the Temporal Discounting doesn't create more clutter, we make sure that the small rewards are non-accumulation type rewards i.e. things that won't be 'stuff' but instead experiences e.g. guilt free TV, lunch with a friend, a massage, a manicure, pedicure, doing an hour of a hobby (guilt free), cinema etc.


2. 'Temporal Discounting' uses a specific part of the brain.


Research by Paul Glimcher from New York University and B.J. Casey from Weill Cornell Medical University has shown that the impulsive area of the brain which links to emotions, rewards, feelings and impulsiveness is situated in what's called the limbic system - in the middle of the base of our brains.


This is where our impulse for the small rewards NOW come from.


However, the part of the brain that deals with control, memory, attention and focus is situated in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain - in the middle of the front of our brains.


How do we know? If this area is damaged, our urge to 'grab' things is increased.


This is where our focus on the big reward LATER lies. This requires attention, focus and control, plus a memory of why we didn't impulse earlier.


Solution to overcoming this?


Make the NOW reward less compelling and the larger LATER reward more compelling.

This shifts the brain away from using the limbic area to using the prefrontal cortex.

How can you do this?


The good news is that the Clutter Clearing Process focuses on using the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain.


By reviewing our Worksheet 7 in Workbook or eBook 1 with every Clutter Clearing Session, we are actually reminding our brain of the long term big goal that comes LATER, so that it focuses our minds on what we're aiming to achieve, rather than the short term small reward we may get from impulse buying now.


3. The BIG reward or benefit later usually feels further away than it really is


This decreases the appeal of waiting for it - or even considering it. In fact, as we get to the smaller NOW reward, the later BIG reward actually seems even further off than it did when we could see both rewards. It's as if the BIG reward is blocked by the smaller NOW reward.


Solutions to overcoming this?


There are 3 things that have been proven to make a difference.


  • Waiting just 5 minutes to give yourself the instant reward has shown to decrease the impulse by 50%.

Therefore, if you were to see something in the shop and want to impulse buy it and say to yourself 'I'll come back to that when I've got what I NEED and is on my shopping list', you're less likely to impulse buy that item.

  • Imagining the big reward that you'll get LATER in your mind e.g. imagining standing on the scales and being your ideal weight.

The good news is that we do this as part of the Clutter Clearing Process. We focus on how your home will look, feel, sound and smell when it's completely clutter free.


So, carrying in your purse or handbag a picture that represents how you want the room to look, feel, sound or smell that you can easily look at when you feel the urge to impulse buy will help you focus on the long term big reward that you'll get LATER - as long as you don't impulse by thing things that will un-do all the good you've done so far.

  • Research by Stamford University has shown that playing slow rhythm music helped people focus on the later reward and see it as closer, whereas a quicker rhythm music made people focus on the immediate reward.

Now you know why shops choose quick rhythm music - to increase the probability that you'll impulse by - and restaurants have slow rhythm music so that you focus on the later reward rather than becoming impatient for your food (unless you're in a fast food restaurant).


4. The future detail matters.


It stands to reason that the details of the small reward NOW will be clearer than the details of the big reward LATER. Furthermore, it's logical that the more detail we can see the more likely we are to choose that option.


So it's hardly surprising that we're more likely to choose the impulse buy NOW over the intangible, non-specific buy LATER.


I see this every day with my clients and members.


They want to by an item that they see NOW because they like it and would like it in their room, yet they can't imagine - in detail - how their home will look when it's completely clutter free, therefore don't know how this thing they see NOW will fit into the room LATER.

Solutions to overcoming this?


Psychologist Michael Cameron of Pacific Child and Family Associates (a group of behavioural health clinics in California) has done studies about focusing on SPECIFIC detail that's relevant to YOU - not broad detail.


E.g. For get saying that less clutter will cause you 'less stress'. We all know that.

What specifically will the benefit be to YOU when you clear your clutter?


Will you be able to socialise more, have your best friend to visit or stay?


5. Temporal Discounting may be stronger because we don't want to focus on the future


A large proportion of my help in the home clients over the age of 70. Many have had their clutter for years. Decades in fact.


They've thought about dealing with it for many, many years, but never asked for help or done anything about it.


In the past it's always been a big reward that's LATER - when they're older.


They don't want to think about being older.


They want to live in the present - with the smaller, instant rewards.

Then they reach a point where suddenly they are older.


Their 'check-out date' feels more imminent and their small reward in the near future is clearer - they don't want to leave the clutter for someone else to have to deal with.


It's a smaller reward because they're not attaching their enjoyment of their homes, space or life more with decluttering - just the fact that they don't want someone else to have to sort through it.


The down side is that, having left it until the reward is just focused on the benefit to others, they are older, slower and less physically able to deal with their clutter.


It becomes a necessity rather than a choice, driven by the effect on others.


Having left it this late in life and feeling pressurised by time, the cost of dealing with it is greater because, generally, they need the help in the home option rather than being able to do it with my help, advice and guidance.



So the 2 driving factors are:

  1. They don't want to focus the future.

  2. When the future becomes NOW, they then need the reward to benefit others, not themselves.


Solutions to overcoming this?


First, try imagining we are doing it for someone else - your future 'you'.


Psychologist Christopher Bryan did some research in 2011. He said that we can overcome Temporal Discounting if we 'have a sense of obligation to others who depend on us'.


He illustrated this with an experiment related to pensions.


He talked to two groups of people about the need and importance to voluntarily put money aside for a pension.


One group were advised to put it away for themselves.


The second group were advised to put it away for 'him/her - the future you'.


Bryan argues that the second group put more money away than the first because they were thinking of their future selves as a different person.


Imagine doing it for the future you.


Imagine inviting the future you into your home.


You're doing it for that person, and they'll get x,y,z as a benefit.


They'll be able to do more of this, achieve that.


So, now you understand about Temporal Discounting, which of the above do you think you've experienced at some point on your Clutter Clearing Journey?


Which are affecting you most RIGHT NOW?


Try just one of the solutions identified above. Give it a fair chance by applying it every day for the next 21 days. That's how long it takes to create a new habit and rewire our brains into a new way of thinking.


They may not work - but equally they may.


Ultimately, now you know and understand it more, you have a choice about whether to accept and give in to Temporal Discounting.


I can help you deal with all of the above 5 factors.

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