As soon as the server placed his meal in front of him my friend Daniel picked up his knife and fork and, with planned intention, gently moved one food item off to the side of his plate.
He then systematically consumed everything else on his plate and, once the relocated item was all that was left, set about devouring it with obvious enjoyment.
I have enjoyed many meals with Daniel over the long period of our friendship and have always been intrigued by his habit of sliding one item to the side of his plate for later consumption. This time I decided to ask why?
Before I tell you how he responded I should tell you a little bit about Daniel first.
If I was asked to select one word to define Daniel that word would be “disciplined.”
Daniel is one of these rare people who accomplishes everything he sets out to do. I have always been amazed by his innate ability to focus and never allow anything to deter him from the task at hand.
He has an extremely successful career, a delightful family and keeps himself in impressive physical shape.
So when I asked him about the strange habit of his, he told me that he has done this for as long as he can remember. He said he began doing this when he was a child and was visiting his grandparents.
His grandmother had baked his favorite treat – chocolate cake. She had placed a rather sizable piece on a plate and had lovingly watched as he had attacked it with gusto.
Like so many of us, he had eaten his favorite part – the icing – first and was working his way through the cake part of the cake when his grandmother had asked why he had chosen to begin with the icing.
He explained to his grandmother that icing was his favorite part and she had taught him something that has stood him in good stead ever since.
She told him about the concept of always “saving the best for last,” and had convinced him that if he saved the icing until the end he would be more than doubling his enjoyment of the cake because as much as he would be enjoying the cake part of the cake, he would still have the real prize – the icing – to look forward to.
Daniel went on to tell me that his grandmother’s advice has played a role in almost every decision he has made since then.
“Saving the best for last,” has allowed him to push aside temptation to do things that would feel good in the moment and would trigger regret later on.
Daniel told me that he has seen many colleagues damage their careers by doing things that perhaps made them feel good in the moment and then came back to haunt them later on.
A regular attendee at his gym, he said that frequently the motivation that has enabled him to sustain a decades long regimen of three grueling workouts per week has come from reminding himself, at those times when all he wants to do is go home and collapse onto his couch, how good he will feel after he pushes himself through the workout regimen.
Interestingly, Daniel had not heard the term “delayed gratification” prior to our lunch and yet he is the very embodiment of what that means.
He absolutely gets the notion that if we push aside temptation today we will invariably reap far greater pleasure tomorrow.
And the wonderful life he has built for himself and his family attests to the truthfulness of that statement.
Mastering the Habit of Delayed Gratification will not guarantee success in every undertaking but staying with the Habit of Immediate Gratification will almost always ensure a life of endless frustration and self-disappointment.
I think we would all benefit mightily by following the sage advice of Daniel’s grandmother and committing to the habit of “saving the best for last.”
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.