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Why Does Your Internal Conflict Act Against Better Judgment?

Prerna is a thinker, observer, reader & writer. She is always curious to learn. She is a strong believer in human potential.


Recently, I found myself struggling with the choice of what to order for lunch from my favorite restaurant. The debate started in my mind about indulging in delicious pasta or going for a light healthy meal. My inner self started giving all the pros & cons of having pasta. The battle raged in my head until my mom asked whether I placed an order or not?

And I lost the battle with myself and ordered pasta. The option I wanted, won out over the option I should select.

By the way, I am a person who does not opt for short-run enjoyments at the expense of long-run benefits. But sometimes I lose the battle too.


Well, we all face this kind of internal conflict every now and then. Every day we all make collective decisions from savings to eating only healthy food, doing regular exercise, and waking up early. But how often do we follow through with them or stick to the plan?

Many of us fail to hold the temptation of our immediate desires over our long-term interests or benefits. It leads us to take the decision against our own better judgment. Thus, engaging in such behavior which would have been rejected with adequate forethought is mostly regretted later.

Do you know behavioral psychology research has revealed a phenomenon called ‘Time Inconsistency‘ for such behavior?

It refers to the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more than future rewards.

For better understanding let’s consider we all possess two selves – a ‘want self’ and a ‘should self’. Want self fights for all the things which bring short term pleasure. On the contrary, a should self represents your long-term interests. In fact, many shows and movies also depict internal conflict by showing a whispering angel and devil offering conflicting preferences. In simple terms, we call it internal conflict.

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Whenever you set goals for yourself – such as writing a book, future investments or savings, losing weight, avoiding junk food – you make plans for your future self. Thus you envision the future the way you want it to be. So, when you plan or envision your future you see the long-term benefits. Hence, your future-self/should-self values long-term rewards.

While your future self sets a goal, only your present self is responsible to take action to accomplish that goal. That means that action or decision is taking place in the present. So when the time comes to take action your present self looks at the immediate reward and not the future reward.

For example, the idea of starting a healthy diet or achieving a fitness goal is made by the future self. But the same idea is no longer captivating for your present self when it comes to take an action. Because today’s action will reward you with long-term rewards such as a fit and healthy life. But eating chocolate today can give you a calming pleasure for the intense sugar craving.

Sure, you all know how important it is to be healthy. A healthy diet and exercise will give you a fit life ahead. And here arises the internal conflict, you will get the benefit or risk (in case of an unhealthy lifestyle) in the future and not today. Hence, you usually choose the short-term reward as the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle are years away.

Similarly, as a young adult, you know saving in your 20’s and 30’s is important to secure your future. But your present self values the instant reward by buying new clothes or shoes instead of saving that money for old you.

That’s why our present self and future self are always in conflict. Hence, we sometimes act against our own better judgments.

Time inconsistency helps explain why do we procrastinate despite our good intentions. Overcome your procrastination habit by implying these simple steps.

Thanks for reading, hope you learned something new!

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© 2021 Prerna Dhulekar

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