The problem with self-control is that we are usually paying now for a reward later. The consequence is that we discount future rewards and give in to feel good now.
In an article published by Tinuke Oluyomi Daniel, Christina Stanton, and Leonard Epstein (University at Buffalo, The State University of New York) entitled, “The future is now- Comparing the effect of episodic future thinking on impulsivity in lean and obese individuals“, the authors explore how future thinking helps with impulse control. The participants in their study that thought about the future were able to eat fewer calories, thereby sticking to their goal to reduce their food intake and meet their weight-control goal.
In an earlier similar study published in the journal ‘Appetite’ (read a summary here), Epstein and his colleagues concluded that “when people are taught to imagine, or simulate the future, they can improve their ability to delay gratification.”
The key point seems to be that mentally simulating the future can help reduce our impulsive urge to give in to feel good now.
This self-regulation problem of giving in to feel good now instead of later is at the heart of procrastination, so I guess I guess my best way to finish my sub goals for today is to think about my finished master thesis in eight months from now.
Mental “time travel” to the future can help in relation to our self-control, and this blog post on “tough love” for procrastinators explains other ways that thinking about the future can help bolster our self control.