The sky is pastel pink and blue, announcing that there will be a lovely sunrise today. I’m down in the valley in the woods of New Hampshire this morning. To properly capture this show would require a drive to the top of a hill two miles away. I sip my coffee and contemplate the mad dash for the perfect Instagram image, and turn back to my morning routine. I look for the moments and embrace them when they appear, but I usually choose not to chase them.
By all accounts it’s been a great winter for the Aurora Borealis. I check its progress often, but concede I’m not getting to Iceland, Norway, Labrador or even Northern Maine anytime soon. I’m deeply immersed in work and renovating a bathroom, firmly setting myself in the foundation of family priorities. There is a time for everything, and I’ve chosen not to chase the Northern Lights; once demolition started the work was no longer a choice.
As I’ve matured I’ve gotten a little better at negating the effects of temporal discounting in my actions. Meaning I’m not dropping everything important in my longer term future to visit friends island hopping in the Caribbean or family beachside in Florida. I count seven spots on my hands where I’ve donated blood to my bathroom renovation this week – believe me, I’d rather have deposited that money into flight tickets and a new bathing suit. But the bathroom offers a greater return on investment at the moment.
Temporal discounting is more challenging in our daily habits. I have a goal to lose some weight by my birthday in April. But I still grab a handful of M & M’s in the bowl by the door on my way out. One habit offers immediate gratification, the other offers longer term benefit but involves sacrificing gratification in this moment. Temporal discounting is a tough bear to wrestle. The answer lies in removing the bowl of candy next to the door until you can stop seeing it as a desirable gratification in the moment.
The flip side of temporal discounting logic is the recognition that I’m not getting any younger. There are plenty of examples of people in my life facing cancer or other instant state changes in how they’re able to navigate this life. There’s only now. And so perhaps driving to see the sunrise was the better choice, just as buying the flight tickets might be. Do it now, before it’s too late is a version of do it now because it feels good. It’s temporal discounting disguised as logic.
And there’s the wrestling match between the possible nows. Do what feels good now or defer it indefinitely (or dismiss it forever) for the greater good. An angel on one shoulder, a devil on the other, both whispering their advice. I could be in Iceland staring up at the sky, swimming in warm tropical sea water this evening, or I could finish this bathroom floor and pack for a business trip tomorrow. I know the right choice, and I know the desirable choice. Don’t we all? Another George Bailey moment on this march through life. But in the end his story turned out okay, didn’t it?