The Price of Cake
In the future, everything is on sale.
Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.
- Bill Murray, Groundhog Day
This is not really a post about the price of cake.
It’s a post about throwing a wrench into the brain gears that operate what we think, feel, and do automatically and without pausing for consideration.
The Cake Trade
Here’s a trade for you.
Imagine there's a demonic waiter holding a big piece of your favorite cake and he says,
How much time would you take off the end of your life for this piece of cake? A minute? An hour? A day?
Let’s make a deal. 😈
In the Future, Everything Is on Sale
People value things less in the future than we do in the present, and the further out we go into the future, the more we discount these things.
A dollar is worth less to us a year from now than it is worth to us today and it will be worth even less to us ten years from now.*
Behavioral scientists call this hyperbolic discounting. They’re still debating why it occurs, but my take is that it has something to do with the limitations we have imagining, relating to, and planning for our future.
This is what the value curve of an object might look like whether it's cake, a dollar, or a minute of our lives.
So in the future, everything is on sale.
I bring this up because it affects the cake trade with the demonic waiter in a couple ways:
1. A piece of cake will never be worth more to us than it is today.
2. Time will never be worth less to us than it is far out in the future at the end of our lives.
The Groundhog Day Bias
So maybe we make one bad trade. We buy the cake at peak prices today and sell a minute or an hour from the end of our lives at rock bottom prices.
Big deal. We lose one minute or one hour thirty or forty or fifty years from now.
Plus, in reality, we have no idea whatsoever how much time one piece of cake will cost us. Maybe it’s zero and this whole post is ridiculous…
Still, there's a problem.
Let’s say this all happened yesterday and we ate that cake and now it’s today and somehow we’re seated at the same table and the demonic waiter approaches us with a big piece of our favorite cake and he's ready to make another deal.
And what if this happens again the day after tomorrow and the day after that?
This is exactly what happens when we have unhealthy habits. We make the same bad trade over and over again.
I call this the Groundhog Day Bias.
This is one of my favorite gifs of all time.
It's Bill Murray in Groundhog Day stuffing pastries in his face because every morning he wakes up and somehow it's the same day over again.
He doesn’t care about tomorrow because it's never coming.
Bill is the poster boy for hyperbolic discounting!
Yet, tomorrow is coming. A year from now is coming. Ten years from now is coming.
And we are all likely to make the same decisions tomorrow as we made today, especially when we make those decisions automatically and without pausing for consideration.
As I mentioned above, this is a post about throwing a wrench into our brain gears.
We do a lot of things automatically like reaching for a piece of cake or our phones or a drink.
Maybe we think we do these things without thinking or having feelings about them but we do, it's just that those thoughts and feelings happen fast and below the radar.
Maybe some reading this post today will begin pausing for consideration before reaching.
Maybe some of us will stop and think about this post, the demonic waiter, hyperbolic discounting, and Bill Murray.
That pause is the wrench in our brain gears.
*controlling for inflation and rates you finance people ;)