Delayed Gratification And Eating Marshmallows
Delayed gratification, is the king (or queen so I do not offend people) of all skills. Our mind is built so that intense pleasure is reinforced immediately and forcefully. This creates loops in our brain, memories and it drives us to seek these pleasures out. Many times we're looking for pleasure to the detriment of our health, social and professional life.
If you need examples, please see any drug use disorder, cocaine and methamphetamine being perfect examples. If you need other examples, you can look at any movie or real life scenario that has a husband cheating on his wife with another partner. These are extreme examples, but hopefully, they drive the point home. Somewhere the decision for an impulsive immediate reward was made, and the long-term outcomes from the decision were either never thought of or pushed aside.
The classic marshmallow test comes to mind when discussing delayed gratification. Children were left in a room with a marshmallow and were told they would get a second if they left the first on the table for 15min. I am confident I would have eaten that marshmallow within 5s of the researcher leaving the room. I was a child with ADHD, and I was highly impulsive. I would not have been able to stifle how badly I wanted the marshmallow now even though I would get two if I just waited.
You need to be able to push aside the idea of immediate pleasure to realize even more satisfaction further in the future. But, our brains make this hard.
Lifting weights and fat loss teach you to delay gratification because these are long processes. You need to put in a lot of work without any satisfaction. Just to get kicked while you are down, not only do you not get any satisfaction by refusing the free doughnut during Friday meetings or getting a grilled chicken salad for lunch instead of a burger, but you end up suffering before you achieve your goal. You will be hungry, tired and sore often.
The marshmallow experiment continued. Researchers continued to follow these children as they grew up and continued into adulthood. In fact, the researchers stalked these people for 40 years and what they found was interesting.
The children that were able to not eat the marshmallow and save themselves for the added fun of eating a second succeeded in every way the researchers measured “Specifically, children became adolescents whose parents rated them as more academically and socially competent, verbally fluent, rational, attentive, planful, and able to deal well with frustration and stress.”
You can find examples of delayed gratification everywhere not just in body transformations. When you need to do your homework/reading but you want to watch TV or go out with friends. Investing in your future by saving money versus spending it all the fun houses, gadgets and cars now. Of course, can you delay your earning and life for up to 11-15+ years of education and training (post 12 years of education through High School so 24-27 years or more in total) so you can become a medical doctor?
So, you suck at delayed gratification. You act impulsively. Are you fucked?
No, you are not, and there are some ways to improve your discipline.
Consistency will be the key. You need to be able to execute repeatedly. For some, this means starting small and achieving success. Then that success builds up and continues to build motivation creating a positive feedback loop. For others, like me, I need to dive in completely and make massive changes all at once.
For example, when I choose to lose fat I do exactly what many say not to do. I limit many food groups, I cut my calories down a lot, and I eat many of the same foods with little flexibility. It just works better for me, and I can fully commit to that. When it comes time for me to study, if I study, for my Step 3 exam I will become extremely dedicated for a short amount of time.
I find that the situation varies and making small steps in the right direction can work well in some areas and in others making massive leaps are better. There is no reason you have to choose one or the other.
Clearly, define your priorities
Defining your priorities sounds so simple but not if you are brutally honest with yourself. You cannot pull punches on this step. You need to really dig down and decide what your priorities are immediately, in 6 months, one year, five years, ten years.
How badly do you want to lose 20lbs of fat? If it isn’t a high priority that is ok but do not try to trick yourself into thinking it is high because then your plan will fail.
How much do you care about your grades? In medical school, I had the choice between studying the amount I did, which left me with time to workout each day and time for myself at the end of each night. I never studied past 8 pm through all of medical school. It sounds great, doesn’t it? But, I accepted I wouldn’t be at the top 5% of my class. I was ok with that. I knew to achieve that I would need to make sacrifices I was not willing to make.
You need to make those hard decisions at times. The only way you will be able to succeed and execute a plan will be to start being honest with your priorities and motivation. And then focus on the areas that are a priority and really build them up. You will need to revisit this often because priorities change as you move through life.
Plan it out
Some people love planning, and some people can’t stand it. Planning is not an absolute way to help you, but it can certainly get you moving in the right direction. Once your priorities are set, you can build a plan to tackle your goals.
Personally, I like to work from my long term goal and slowly break it down into smaller and smaller chunks making it more manageable. If I were to focus on my goal of gaining 10lbs of muscle that is a daunting task. I would likely lose my motivation fast, quit, and cry myself to sleep every night. Instead, I break that down into smaller goals that are process oriented. This allows me to focus on the daily tasks of reaching that goal and all that needs to be done is completing those tasks, and the rest takes care of itself.
So, lets say your goal is to crush your STEP exam (it’s a terrible 3 part exam that seems just to keep coming back. The STEP 3 is a damn two-day test that costs almost $1000). Your overarching plan is to do well. Great, that is nebulous and vague, but we can work with it. Each person will need a variable amount of studying. For some that might mean one month a few nights a week for others, it is four months of every night each week.
You move that vague plan and goal into a structured process plan. You set a schedule of each night from 7 pm to 9 pm you will study. You can break that down further into various subjects or questions vs. reading. Then you execute the process and know that your plan is solid. This allows you to go on autopilot and now you smile because you will put in the work for that delayed gratification.
Delayed gratification is all about the big reward at the end of the journey but, that doesn’t mean you have to completely hold off until then for a reward. Hopefully, you will feel rewarded just by making progress forward. Sometimes it takes particular effort to sit back and notice how much you have been working towards your goals. It is ok and good to give yourself some compliments. If you have been working your ass off, you are seeing some results, but you still aren’t to your goal you can still acknowledge the work and effort you are putting in.
Set yourself mini milestones and have some sort of reward. Personally, I would rather not have those rewards be specifically food like cake, ice cream, pizza, etc. But, a night out at a fancier restaurant that I might not usually frequent would be a better idea. Or maybe treat yourself to some new clothes, a massage, or riding a unicorn.
Set these up so that you are receiving positive rewards through your journey. You will feel better, and you will associate more positive feelings with continuing. Studies have shown that people who schedule vacations are much happier at work mostly because they know they have a big reward coming up. It is important to provide yourself positive feedback. The habits you will build from this process will continue to work for you even after you have reached your goals.
What have you learned? Marshmallows are good, and no one can resist such a temptation.
- Delaying gratification is difficult but the fruit it much sweeter if you can let it ripen.
- If you want to succeed in big goals, you are going to need this skill.
- If you want to significantly transform yourself either aesthetically, emotionally, professionally, or mentally you will need to learn how to embrace repressing impulses and knowing in the future, you will be much happier.
- Make priorities and be honest with yourself about them.
- After you know your priorities, you can build plans along with the processes that will carry you to the finish line.
- Reward yourself for smaller goals and acknowledge your hard work and effort as you move forward.
- And most importantly be consistent with your efforts and reinforce a positive feedback loop of success and progress.