Delayed gratification! What a concept. The very idea that by not saying “yes” to what we want right now – to what is in front of us in the moment – we are saying “yes” to what we really want in the long-term.
How many of us have allowed ourselves to fall victim to the perilous habit of immediate gratification?
If we were to take an honest look back over our lifetimes, many of us will experience extreme discomfort in seeing ourselves repeatedly robbing ourselves of what we truly wanted by rationalizing that it was okay to succumb to the temptation of doing what we shouldn’t be doing, or not doing what we should be doing, in order to appease an immediate desire to eat that chocolate cake or to cater to that feeling that was telling us it didn’t want to go to the gym.
And each time we did that we were stealing from our future in order to satisfy our present.
Imagine how your life might be different today had you understood the enormity of the damage you were doing to yourself by repeating those very same behaviors of disappointment over and over again.
The irony, for many of us, is that some of the battles we face today could well have been won many years ago had we realized at the time the true cost of deferring gratification.
A man named Richard called me after reading last week’s blog to tell me how much frustration he has brought into his own life by repeatedly setting out to achieve the same goals over and over again only to constantly sabotage his own efforts by succumbing to short-term desires.
Richard told me that he had suspended his career advancement by at least 10 years because of his overwhelming fear of rejection.
He told me that on numerous occasions his peers had presented new ideas to the organization that had been implemented and had earned them promotions and that, in many cases, he had thought of these ideas months ahead of his colleagues and yet had not allowed himself to present these ideas for fear of ridicule.
To Richard, immediate gratification meant setting aside those ideas and convincing himself they were unworthy of further investigation and thereby there was no need to take them forward.
He told me that each time he convinced himself to “shelve” an idea the sense of relief was so powerful and so cathartic as to convince him that he had made the right decision.
He went on to say that each time “his” idea was presented by a coworker at some later date he was overcome by the crushing weight of self-loathing that came from knowing he had “done it to himself again.”
And yet all that pain was not enough to prevent him from allowing his next idea to be seen and heard by the leaders of his organization.
Richard did eventually learn the power of delaying gratification and once he did, began to move upwards through the company. A few years ago he was head-hunted by a competitor where he is today thriving every moment in his position as a Senior Vice President.
He pointed out that he was able to do this by altering his perspective around two things: time and pain.
He explained it this way: let’s say you set a goal for yourself to do something rather difficult for a predetermined amount of time. You know that doing this will be an uphill battle but that the results will give you what you have long wanted.
For example, you have decided to eliminate all processed food from your diet for a period of 90 days and also committed to walking 3 miles every day.
Richard’s point is this: regardless of whether you honour your commitment or not, the 90 days will pass.
If throughout this period you have succumbed to temptation, deviated from your chosen diet, not kept your pledge to walk 3 miles each day, then at the end of 90 days your life will be exactly as it was prior to the beginning of the 90 days.
If, on the other hand, you steadfastly resisted those urges to cheat on your diet and had “toughed it out” and walked 3 miles each day even when every cell in your body was begging you to stay indoors on the couch, then at the end of the 90 days all the pain from each of those times you had pushed temptation aside and said “no” to all those goodies you really wanted and had said “yes” to those 3 mile walks would be long forgotten, and you would be basking in the pleasure that can only come from success.
Richard’s message to us all is that the pain of “sucking it up” by delaying gratification lasts for only a short period of time – time which will pass regardless of what we do – whereas the pleasure that we derive from the results of “sucking it up” will be with us for a long, long time.
Short-term pain = long-term pleasure.
Seems like a worthwhile habit to acquire, doesn’t it?
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.