Inside each of us, a tumultuous war rages. One side offers immediate gratification, the exhilaration of living life in the present, and the excitement of spontaneous enjoyment. On the opposing side is patience to endure the uncertainty of the future, the cognitive ability to remain focused, and the capacity to choose anticipation over impulse.
The relentless pursuit of effective time management and techniques to stay focused throughout the day is an ageless pursuit. Instead of contemplating how to solve the short-term objective of staying focused, what if instead we focus on the long-term objective of becoming a proficient delayer?
Stanford University’s Marshmallow Experiment from the 1960’s highlights why we should care about developing this skill of patience. In the study, children were given the choice between a marshmallow they could eat immediately OR a larger reward for which they would receive if they could wait 20 minutes without eating the marshmallow. Years later, when they studied the participants in this study, the children who fared better in life were those that did NOT eat the marshmallow. These people exhibited higher SAT scores and healthier lifestyles. Delayed gratification is the key to success now and later on in life. So how do get better at this thing called delayed gratification?
Deadlines Create Positive Pressure
Create a definitive timeline to measure success, failure, or the need for an extension. Every goal becomes alive when you hit the deadline switch. Always wanted to learn how to play the piano? Taking lessons can certainly take steps to achieve that, but if you scheduled a private concert for family and friends six months from now, watch how your motivation changes. This brings focus to your development and growth. Without deadlines, the goals float away like clouds on the horizon, only to disappear as something else grabs our attention. As soon as a goal has a deadline, the possibility of failure looms and the long-term objective suddenly moves to the front of your mind.
Additionally, a definitive timeline to measure success can help avoid decisions made out of desperation. Ever hire someone who was not a bullseye fit, just because you thought you couldn’t afford to keep looking? Me too! Decisions can be made in a more objective manner when you have the reinforcement of a deadline. Knowing how many days you have left to make a decision helps your mind remain less subjective when sorting through options.
“There is no such thing as self-help. If you did it yourself then you didn’t need help.” – George Carlin
Peer groups with similar objectives do more than offer a sense of community and belonging. These groups can be one of the keys to personal achievement and professional success. If you are responsible for cultivating talent in others, identify opportunities for like-minded individuals to collaborate on a regular basis. Studies show that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Who do you spend most of your time with? Remaining committed to a specific goal is much more feasible when surrounded by others who have achieved or are pursuing the same things as you. It’s critical to put aside your pride and seek out mentorship and support from others on the same journey as you.
Have vs. Have Not
Turns out, obsessing over the marshmallow made children want to eat it even more. This is true for adults as well. Have you ever filled up on chips and salsa even though the more satisfying meal was coming your way? Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, focus instead on what is to come. “I am looking forward to my delicious meal” is more psychologically effective than “I should not eat the chips”. In the office, this translates to, “I am going to leave the office today having accomplished A, B, and C” rather than “I should not be on social media right now.” Focus on what you will be rewarded within the long-term, not what you are robbing yourself of in the present. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to success through the art of delayed gratification.
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– Michael Monson
President and CEO