Instant or Long-term Gratification

April 7, 2015

Are you a “strike while the iron is hot” or a “good things come to those who wait” type of person?

Washington University in St. Louis conducted a study, the first of its kind, that focused on brain responses after a person made a decision and was waiting for his/her reward. While waiting for the promised rewards, their brains were scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. More patient (long-term gratification) people spent more energy imagining the future… on imagining receiving the reward at a later date. Less patient, instant gratification people spent considerably less… they wanted the reward immediately at the expense of the future.

Although this study focused on the benefits of long-term gratification, examples of instant gratification are certainly prevalent in Western societies. Wall Street is often focused on short-term, quarterly profits. The advent of mobile devices allows humans to expect nearly instant response to emails or SMS. Rapidly advancing technology creates cheaper international travel experiences. The list goes on. As a result, long-term gratification is becoming a more difficult choice for many.

Having to limit your ability to receive something now for the pleasure of being able to have something bigger and better later is difficult. Delaying gratification is a conscious choice which can lead to higher levels of willpower and reaching your goals faster. If you’re willing to make the sacrifice, here are additional resources to support overcoming instant gratification.

In his book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton Christensen discusses balancing deliberate and emergent planning… the idea that you need a long-term framework or business plan, but you also need to be open to serendipitous opportunities you didn’t plan for. Secondly, he states that processes and priorities are more valuable than resources… the idea that we all have access to the same basic pool of resources, but what you choose to prioritize your time on displays your personal brand and makes you unique in the marketplace. Plan deliberately and focus on the long-term.

Angela Lee Duckworth delivered a great TED Talk in April 2013 entitled The Key to Success? GritDuckworth’s research identified one characteristic as the most significant predictor of success. It was not social intelligence, good looks, physical health or even IQ, it was grit. In the talk, she states, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.” Enough said.

If you want to devote more energy towards “good things come to those who wait” future experiences, I encourage you to consider the following -

  1. Know Your Personal Guiding Statements - it often takes my clients months to draft, re-draft, come to grips with, draft again, and then begin living their personal intention, ambition, and value proposition statements. Living them will give you the ability to make choices that lead you to a higher levels of happiness. Check out the video I recorded for the Thunderbird School of Global Management to begin writing yours.
  2. Prioritize and Manage Your Time - in an instant gratification society, how you implement the processes and priorities Christensen talks about is key to your long-term happiness. Check out a blog that I wrote to help you better manage your time and drive higher levels of well being.
  3. Reward Yourself Continually - the journey to self-actualization is a tough one, be sure to find specific ways to reward yourself as you accomplish major milestones. We all prefer to receive appreciation differently. What is your “love” language? Check out the 5 Love Languages website where you can take a free quiz about how you prefer to receive praise.

Maybe you’re more patient, long-term focused, and spend more energy imagining the future. If not, consider reading more from Christensen and Duckworth to lay a foundation to achieve your goals and have bigger and better experiences in the future. The proverbial iron will likely always be hot… are you willing to sacrifice small things now for the achievement of your life’s most important goals and the ability to leave a defining legacy?

Sacrifice of yourself. Be resourceful. Be open to serendipity. Live life likes its a marathon. Be unique. Focus on the day-to-day discipline of achieving long-term gratification.

Do you want to be extraordinary? If so, good things come to those who wait.

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