Self-governing, Eric Clapton and Hyperbolic Discounting

One of the most important values for leaders is self-governance. It is important for the leader and everyone they influence to be self-governing. So, the leader works on their self-governance and teaches others to be self-governing.

Okay, but what does that have to do with Eric Clapton, and what the heck is hyperbolic discounting. I hear you!

What GR8 Leaders teaches about being self-governing has great research to back it up. The research was done by Roy Baumeister. In fact, please get his book, Willpower. He has some outstanding details about self-control, willpower, or self-governance. His book is an excellent resource and fun to read

That brings me to one of my favorite passages in the book. The discussion about hyperbolic discounting. If you again said, "What?", then you are just like me when I read those words in Willpower.

Please keep reading, because hyperbolic discounting impacts your life everyday in some form.

Eric Clapton and Hyperbolic Discounting

Eric Clapton as Pilgrim

In Willpower, the story of Eric Clapton’s relapse as an alcoholic is skillfully used to help us understand hyperbolic discounting. Eric Clapton's relapse was clearly tied to his lack of resisting the temptation to stop for a drink. That very action is an illustration of how we all are easily undone by hyperbolic discounting.

"Think of Eric Clapton on that Saturday evening as a repentant sinner who is literally on the road to salvation, like the hero of Pilgrim’s Progress, the seventeenth century allegory. Suppose that he, too, was journeying toward Celestial City. While traveling through the open countryside, he can see the city’s far-off golden spires and keeps heading in their direction. This evening he looks ahead and notices a pub strategically situated at a bend in the road so that it’s directly in front of travelers. From this distance it looks like a small building, and he still keeps his eyes fixed on the grander spires of the Celestial City in the background. But as Eric the Pilgrim approaches the pub, it looms larger, and when he arrives, the building completely blocks his view. He can no longer see the golden spires in the distance. Suddenly, Celestial City seems much less important than this one little building. And thus, verily, our pilgrim’s progress endeth with him passed out on the pub’s floor."

Roy Baumeister, Willpower, page 183

Are You Getting Too Close?

A simple way to illustrate this idea is to use your hand. Look at an object that is near you. Now hold up your hand with your fingers closed together and then fully extend your arm. Raise your hand to be directly in the line of sight with the object.

Notice how much your hand blocks the view of the object. At this point, you still see the object, because your hand is not close enough to your eyes to entirely block your view. 

Now, pull your hand slowly closer to your eyes. Your hand blocks more of the view of the object as your hand gets closer to your eyes. The closer your hand, the less you see the object. Finally, at some point you will only see your hand.

That is the idea of what happens to all of us when we are in the presence of temptation. At first, the temptation is just a part of our view, but as we continue to think about the temptation, it can become all that we see.

When all you see is the temptation, it turns into actions that result in regrets.

Pre-deciding Is the Antidote to Hyperbolic Discounting

The primary answer to not getting too close is pre-deciding. Are you highly self-governing? You may not end up on the pub's floor like Eric. But, few people are that self-governing, especially, if the temptation is also a weakness.

The way you preserve your self-governance, is to pre-decide. Mr. Baumeister uses the term pre-commit, which is as good. We like the term pre-decide and have used it for years.

You may be self-governing in many areas of your life, but there are always areas for all of us that are less so?

So, pre-decide and you don't need to be self-governing! You don't put yourself on the edge of the slippery slope. AND, be as drastic as necessary. Create new structures to stay clear of the temptation. If you are on a diet, pre-decide to not visit that favorite fast-food place. And, pre-decide to not go down the desert isle in your grocery store!

Time to think about your temptations. Please do not let them blossom into full-blown addictions.

It isn't too late to pre-decide. This may be your first step out of your addition. It definitely helps you be self-governing.

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