Living in the Present Bias

  • Structure by George Becker (

"Not many people like ticking boxes'


This excellent talk from an American economist, Shlomo Benartzi, tells us that we live, mostly, for instant gratification. He says this phenomenon is called having a Present Bias. We live for the present moment so we eat the chocolate instead of a banana. We don't save for our retirement but buy presents for our loved ones. We live so much in the present that we do not even want to tick a box on a driving licence, it is just too much effort to tick the box, which results in Austria having more organ donors than Germany (listen to the talk to have this explained).

I suppose this explains how some people are better at living a 'good life' than others. If we all, mostly, live in the present, those who put others first, work for the family, team, group, in the present moment, they are the ones who live a good life and improve the lives of those around them. The stay at home mom who is constantly tidying so that the family live in an ordered home, the working mom who does her commute, works in an office, and then comes home to care and tend to her family - their instant gratification monkey is based on the daily need to care for their family. The drive to care and tend for others also exists within the present bias - some of us have a selfless focus in our daily lives.

Benartzi and his colleagues developed a system whereby workers would save 3% of their wages (he later felt people could save 6%), whenever they got a pay rise. For some workers, this resulted in a 14% increase in savings after 3.5 years. They developed the system for ordinary folk, who struggle to pay their bills, and it works. There's a big lesson in there for all of us on how to structure our lives, Let's not beat ourselves up on a daily basis, but focus on those around us, improve their daily lives as we live ours. I think what Benartzi tells us is to balance a selfless focus with a need to put petrol in the fuel tank too. If we are giving all of the time then we will end up running on empty. Design our lives to let others help us too. A working mom can assist a son who wants to work part-time but also needs to instill in that son the need to contribute to the family budget. Then the energy is being equally shared & the daily structure is improving - maybe only by 3% but it's still improving.