I’ve been contemplating this as of late…I’ve noticed this behaviour time and time again, over the years, in various settings— business, professional or personal life.
Simply put…WE WANT the Magic Pill…we lose our patience, we want to become slimmer, wealthier, sexier, more confident, smarter…overnight!
We look at others and envy them for their talents, we compare our beginning with someone else’s middle, we call them “lucky”, we scroll mindlessly through Instagram feeling sorry for ourselves, we dream of doing this thing and that thing “some day” . Yet, that day never comes.
We use words like “trying” — i.e. I will try to eat healthier / exercise / change my job / [fill in the gap] instead of actually doing it.
We dismiss simple things, because they are simple.
We forget this: shifting the focus to I am doing it — i.e. I am eating healthy, I am exercising, I am changing creates more accountability.
Nike really had it right when they said…JUST do it!
The main reason for this behaviour is that this desire is deeply rooted in our biology. Our brains are wired to prioritise short-term needs over long term goals.
We’re so drawn to instant gratification, to get things right now, that we miss the big picture and the benefits that can be gained long term with consistent effort.
We respond to short-term desires of satisfaction by releasing dopamine, the “pleasure hormone” — we crave more and more of it every time (this explains why you’re addicted to scrolling through instagram, you get a new dopamine hit every time your feed refreshes or you see a like or a new message, comment etc.)
As technology advances, we expect to have everything at our fingertips and this further perpetuates poor impulse control and addictive tendencies (just the other day I found myself getting frustrated about my 2 minute poor internet connection!).
On the other hand, delayed gratification is what creates success in our lives.
Think about your own life — if you delay the impulse of binge watching your favourite TV show and use some of the remaining time to educate yourself, you become more disciplined overtime and learn something new in the process (win-win!)
Which leads me to me build the case for this…you’ve probably heard of the Marshmallow experiment?
In this 1960s experiment Stanford professor Walter Mischel and his team tested hundreds of children (ages 4 or 5) by bringing each child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them.
At this point, the researcher would offer a deal to the child.
The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow.
So the choice was simple: one treat right now or two treats later.
The researcher left the room for 15 minutes.
Some kids jumped up and ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher closed the door. Others got distracted and bounced around as they tried to restrain themselves, but eventually gave into temptation a few minutes later. And finally, a few of the children did manage to wait the entire time.
The interesting part of this experiment, however, came years later. The researchers followed each child for more than 40 years and over and over again, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeed in whatever capacity they were measuring (SAT scores, professional success etc)
In other words — this series of experiments proved that the ability to delay gratification was critical for success in life.
How can you apply this in your life too?
It’s important to note, before we go further, that this is just one piece of the data, one piece of the puzzle — you probably know by now that human nature is messy and life is not perfect.
I always teach the concept of 1% better and the compounding effects this has over a period of time. I came across it in different books but my favourite explanation comes from James Clear (checkout Atomic Habits, it’s gold!)
Sustained effort — day in | day out — and the compounding effect that these small steps have over time.
1% better every day equals to 37x at the end of the year
As Bill Gates once said:
People overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in 10
To echo the same philosophy, you’re probably familiar with “it takes years to become an overnight success”, attributed to Richard Branson but you can find different variations online.
Yet…I’ve witnessed this time and time again…most people don’t put in the time and effort.
Because we want it now!!!!
We want to bypass the pain, the struggle, the challenges, the work, the discomfort, the tears, the sweat…
We want the magic pill that makes us smarter, richer, thinner, more beautiful, healthier, more lovable, better leaders, better partners, parents etc.
We dismiss simple things because we know them. We know them so damn well that we forget we actually need to apply them.
If you heard before “Knowledge is power” and believe that, ask yourself this:
Knowing something without applying it…what does it do for you? Does it help you progress?
I am pretty sure you’ll recognise that the answer is — NO.
Applied knowledge gives us power
Whilst some of us spend years and years procrastinating and say — “I’ll do this someday” — others (the overnight success) just do it!
They build good habits, they build the discipline. They realise there’s no motivation, there’s no magic pill, there’s just consistent effort, commitment and hard work.
They wake up and go to the gym even when they don’t feel like it, they do the work despite how challenging it might be or feel because they know this is the secret, the magic pill.
The magic pill is years of hard work, commitment and getting used to feeling uncomfortable.
Wishing away challenges and looking for the easy way out means you won’t be pushed enough, you will miss the chance to become antifragile and in the process you’re not just doing yourself a disservice but also to others you meet and impact in your journey.
And don’t get me wrong, though this all sounds good and well, it is not easy.
So I guess it comes down to the choices we make. Just like the kids in the marshmallow experiment, we too, are faced with choices (1000s of them everyday!)
How do you delay gratification?
You can train yourself to become better by making small adjustments.
We can train this ability by starting small, just like you’d learn to walk before you run or how you will train your muscles to become stronger over time.
Start with a small mindset tweak:
Is it worth waiting?
Yes, because [fill in the gap]
Can I do this?
Yes, I have the capability to do so
2 things you can start doing today:
Apply the 1% better concept
One thing you start getting better at.
For example when I wanted to read more, I’ve set a daily target of 25 min a day and every small break I had (sometimes 2–3 minutes, I’d read). This took me from 13 books read in a year to 48 the next year and to over 60 the one after. (not bragging, just a small example to reinforce why this works 😉)
The most frequent mistake I see people make is this: they want to go from 0 to 100 in one day. They go from 0 exercise for 10 years to 5 days a week in the gym. This usually lasts 2 weeks max (I’ve seen it play over and over again in my work as a coach).
What you want to do is start with even as little as 10–15 minutes a day and increase in time. This helps with the discipline and the consistency.
Curious to hear — in which area of your life you most want to apply these concepts?