Many of us are familiar with the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment that was conducted in the early 1970s.
A marshmallow was offered to each child participating in the experiment and he/she was told that they would receive a second marshmallow if they could resist eating the first marshmallow for a period of time.
The researchers then observed these kids to determine which of them was able to wait until they received the second marshmallow and which ones could not resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow that was in front of them.
How many of us have repeatedly conducted the Marshmallow Experiment on ourselves?
How many of us have chosen to eat that one marshmallow because it was right there in front of us right now rather than wait a little while and be rewarded with two marshmallows.
The habit of delaying gratification is perhaps one of the strongest signs that point to the likelihood of achieving success in many endeavors. It determines the degree to which we will put off doing/not doing something we want to do/not do right now in order to enjoy a much bigger prize at some later point in the future.
It is been said that one of the common characteristics of highly successful people is that they have learned to “suck it up” when faced with choices that will move them away from their desired goals.
On many occasions, in my other blog, we have discussed the notion that everything we do, we do for only one of two reasons: we do what we do in order to gain pleasure or in order to avoid pain. And it is our willingness to endure immediate pain that will frequently lead us to the realization of pleasure – our goals – in the future.
The classic example of immediate or instant gratification versus delayed or deferred gratification is one with which many of us are all too familiar. Losing weight seems to occupy the minds and goals of many people and, as I have worked over the years with so many people for whom weight loss has been a primary goal, I have heard the familiar tale of instant gratification getting in the way of goal realization time after time after time.
The typical scenario unfolds like this: you are out at a social event, you have been diligently sticking to some weight loss plan and you are feeling good about your success, your progress.
The host brings out the most tantalizing and delicious looking chocolate mousse you ever laid eyes on and a little voice inside deep inside of you begins a conversation that goes something like this:
“I’m really going to be good and say ‘No,’ but boy does it look like fabulous and the smell, well the smell of that chocolate mousse is just amazing.”
“Would it be such a terrible thing if I had just a little taste right now and I’ll be extra vigilant tomorrow? “
D”on’t do it! You’ll be mad at yourself later”
“Really? Just a tiny taste? Will it makes such a big difference?”
“Tell you what I will have some right now and I will be doubly diligent tomorrow and for all of the next month.”
And so you convince yourself to have that “tiny, little” piece. And afterwards you feel guilty, angry, disillusioned and depressed.
And then you repeat the very same activity the next time temptation steps in front us.
What we have done is made the common error that comes from losing the battle in choosing instant satisfaction over delayed gratification. We have chosen to sacrifice what we really want for what we really want right now. We’ve chosen to eat the marshmallow that is right in front of us rather than waiting – sucking it up – and having two marshmallows to enjoy a little later on.
Sadly, this is a real cause of long-term pain for many of us. In our quest to avoid immediate pain we frequently sentence ourselves to a life of far greater, long term pain and guilt.
The old adage that “no pain, no gain” has a great deal of truth in the pursuit of our goals. We simply need to do what we know we need to do rather than repeatedly convince ourselves that it is OK not to do what we know we need to do.
We must acquire the habit of enduring the pain – delaying gratification – that is present if we are to have any hope of achieving the pleasure of realizing our dreams.
The pain of repeatedly failing to achieve our goals is infinitely more damaging to our psyche than the pain of saying “No” to that chocolate mousse right now.
That pain (of saying “No”) will be forgotten very quickly while the other pain will last a lifetime.
Those of us who have struggled with weight loss, joined a gym and never shown up, made countless resolution after resolution to make change in our lives and have not successfully done so have allowed ourselves to become victims of the same sad habit. We have taught ourselves the habit of instant gratification – staying home and devouring potato chips on the couch instead of going to the gym, putting off making tough decisions, avoiding making that awkward call – are all classic examples of caving in to immediate and present pain while pushing the joy of success further and further away.
The challenge with not delaying gratification is that we achieve the very opposite of what we’re trying to achieve by putting off doing those things we should be doing.
Yes, maybe granting ourselves instant gratification by eating the chocolate mousse, or not making that difficult call, or putting off making an unpleasant decision, does ease the pain right now but, and you all know I’m right, the more we avoid pain this way, the more we guarantee ourselves greater pain in the future.
The age of the kids in the Marshmallow Experiment ranged from three years and six months to five years and six months. This tells us they had acquired their immediate versus delayed gratification habits at a very tender age and the same is true for us.
This means – assuming we are older than those kids – that we have had many, many years to master the habit of instant gratification and, for many of us, seeking immediate reward has become our default behaviour. If this is true for you, you will benefit enormously by acquiring the habit of focusing on your goals and delaying gratification in order to reach them.
This is a habit that will be painful to acquire in the short term and will bring years of joy to our lives if we “Just do it.”
I know of only one way to change a habit and that is to begin adopting the new one. This may be difficult, it may introduce some stress into your life as the old one fights to regain its position of prominence, but if for any reason the old habit is not producing results that you want, then this short term difficulty and stress is but a small price to pay.
If we give in to temptation each time it presents itself to us in the form of chocolate mousse or feelings of discomfort then we resign ourselves to regret-filled lives of mediocrity.
Let’s all pledge to endure small bits of short-term pain in order that we may enjoy long-term lives filled with success and accomplishment.
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.
P.P.S. I have a question for those of you who are reading this blog and for those of you who have accepted my “30 day challenge” from earlier blogs.
Would you be interested in connecting over the Internet via a live webcast to your computer? This would enable us to have meaningful 2-way dialogue and to discuss far more than is permitted in the limited space of a blog.
If you are interested in participating in a live webcast, please send me an email to email@example.com and I will get back to you with details fairly soon.
Also, please give some thought to being a guest blogger. If you, or someone you know, have a compelling story, please share your story with us. Stories inspire, and perhaps through your story, someone’s life will change in a way they never dreamed possible. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your story.