Where’s Your Horizon?

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We all know people who live for today and their opposite, those who plan for the future and resist today’s impulses. Horizons differ. Some see only the more immediate and others see far into the distance, perhaps saving for retirement or another distant goal.

In smokers, the ability to quit is linked strongly to this difference in horizons. Among those who smoke, it is more likely the short term will be predominant. Contrasted with non-smokers, smokers aren’t oriented to the future. But what about among smokers themselves? Is success in quitting linked to how far ahead they plan?

Researchers found that indeed it did matter. Using eight years of data from over 7,000 Australian households, they were able to get information on 1,817 smokers paired with savings behavior. The idea is that the percentage of disposable income set aside as savings is reflective of planning and looking to the future.

To get a comparison with the ability to quit, the researchers picked a three-month savings as a cut off for “far horizon” and those with only a week or less of savings as “near horizon.” This gave them two groups to compare, and they accounted for income disparity so that household budgets weren’t the reason people saved or didn’t.

With these two groups of smokers to compare, they then found those who had tried to quit (over the period from 2001 to 2008). Who was successful? Seventy-six percent of quitters were long-time-horizon planners, compared with 66% of those who continued to smoke. Put another way, if you are a long-term planner, you have about a 53% chance of being successful at quitting smoking, if you are a short horizon person, your chances of quitting drop to slightly more than 41%.

According to a press release about the study: “Researchers in other fields have found similar associations: newly diagnosed diabetics who are future-focused are more likely to make healthy changes to their diet and exercise habits, and cocaine users who discount the future are less likely subsequently to stop using the drug.”

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