While reading Tony Robbin’s all-time classic ‘Awaken The Giant Within’, I stumbled across a powerful quote that got me thinking:
“Most of the challenges that we have in our personal lives come from a short-term focus” — Tony Robbins
If you compare highly successful people with average performers, you can quickly identify a big difference. The most successful people are almost always long-term oriented, while most average performers (and especially underperformers) are short-term oriented.
Where highly successful tend to act more in alignment with their long-term goals and values, average performers tend to seek more short-term pleasures. However, this preference for ‘instant gratification’ is exactly what causes major problems in life.
It’s all too common that this short-term focus leads to things like low productivity, weak financial situations, bad health and failure to achieve big and ambitious goals.
The problem with instant gratifications is that their pleasures are almost always short-lived. The effects run out pretty quickly, and you’re left with a hunger for more stimulation. Therefore, you continue seeking your next ‘quick-fix’ of instant gratification and before you know it you find yourself in a loop of short-term fixes.
The effects of delayed gratification, on the other hand, usually last much, much longer. The achievement of a long-term goal almost always has an impact on your life that lasts far beyond tomorrow, next week or even next year.
For example, the positive effects of strong personal finances are much more impactful and last a lot longer than the short-term rush of excitement that comes from an impulsive purchase.
Finishing an ambitious project, such as writing a book or creating a course, will have long-lasting benefits that massively outweigh the short-term pleasure gained from procrastinating and being engaged in mindless distractions.
Yet, most people are short-term oriented and choose pleasure, satisfaction and dopamine hits right now at the expense of bigger gains somewhere in the future. Essentially, they are robbing themselves of the opportunity to create a better future by picking instant gratification over delayed gratification. All in all, it’s ruining their chances of success.
Remember, when you are saying yes to instant gratification, you are almost always saying no to more valuable long-term rewards.
A few highly common examples of instant gratification that hinder you from getting a better future are:
In any of these examples, it’s very clear that choosing the instant gratification doesn’t contribute at all to a (significantly) better future. Instead, in most cases, it only makes your future more difficult and challenging — even though it offers you immediate pleasures and comfort. Yet, all too often people pick the short-term pleasure over the future pay-out.
That’s exactly why this is one of the biggest differences between success and mediocrity. Those who see the value in delayed gratification (and act in accordance with it) will, slowly but surely, create a better future for themselves. Over time, these small improvements compound and lead to entirely different lives.
On the other hand, those who consistently fall prey to the temptations of short-term fixes will ‘suddenly’ be laid off, run into an empty bank account, get pains and aches or be left with failed goals & dreams.
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Why is it that many ambitious and highly motivated individuals still fall prey to instant gratifications and fail to achieve long-term success? In essence, it’s because their ‘present self’ is not aligned with their ‘future self’.
You see, we practically have two versions of ourselves. First of all, we have a ‘future self’. This version is the one who sets goals and dreams about how great and successful our future will be. This version also realizes the importance of hard work, consistency and getting the job done.
But then, there’s our ‘present self’, and the present self is the one who is responsible for actually sitting down and doing the job. It’s my present self that is currently writing this blog post, not my future self (which came up with the idea and goal for writing this post).
The problem is that the present self prefers instant gratification over delayed gratification, and therefore the two versions clash often. Where the present self wants to watch Netflix or play Call of Duty, the future self wants to get this blogpost finished. Yet, it’s only the present self who can get the job done, not the future self.
When the present self and future self aren’t aligned with each other, we start to give in to instant gratifications like social media, Netflix, video games, fast-food or other distractions that make us feel good in the moment. In other words, this is when we procrastinate.
Often, our present self and future self aren’t aligned because choosing the option that provides a delayed gratification is either (1) much less stimulating than instant gratifications or (2) more challenging and ‘out of the comfort zone’ than instant gratifications.
For example, sitting down for a few hours to write a report or blogpost is a lot less stimulating than scrolling through Netflix, playing video games or watching YouTube videos. The present self realizes this all too well, and rather picks the more stimulating (and dopamine-producing) option than the ‘boring’ option.
The present self also realizes that things such as exercising, waking up early and working on goals are often much more challenging and ‘out of your comfort zone’ than the option that provides instant gratification and instant comfort. It’s easy to see which option the present self prefers more often than not…
There are a few strategies you can use to become long-term oriented and to train yourself to avoid the short-term instant gratifications. When you use these strategies on a consistent basis, you’ll find yourself being pulled more and more towards picking the delayed gratification almost automatically.
Align Your Present Self With Your Future Self: In essence, to avoid instant gratifications we need to align our present self with our future self. To do so, clearly imagine, at this moment, how your future self will be negatively affected when you decide to pick the easy way out. Think about the pain your future self will experience if he or she failed to achieve their most ambitious goals, lives with painful regret and continues to struggle financially, physically, mentally and professionally if you’d fail to execute right now.
Then, clearly imagine how your future self would be positively impacted if you managed to achieve your future goals, live with good health & thriving energy and have financial abundance and high self-esteem. By doing so, you feel the future effects right now, which serves as the necessary motivation to choose the delayed gratification over the instant gratification.
Schedule, Plan and Pre-Commit: When you schedule your days and weeks you’re essentially making appointments with yourself in advance. This reduces your chances of falling prey to instant gratifications significantly. Usually, we fall prey to instant gratification when we have to make in-the-moment decisions. The question, ‘should we write our book or watch Netflix?’ arises. However, by scheduling and pre-committing to an activity beforehand, we avoid this question entirely as we’ve already made the decision.
Make It Less Intimidating: Often, we pick instant gratifications because the alternative is too intimidating or challenging. Studying for a difficult exam is much more intimidating than playing video games. So, we need to find ways to make studying much less intimidating. To do so, we can break it down into smaller chunks or checkpoints. Instead of saying you need to ‘study’ (which is ambiguous and vague) you can say ‘from 15:00 to 15:45 I’ll study section 4.3’ which is much less intimidating and much more specific. Our brain prefers this clarity, as it makes the activity seem less uncomfortable and less intimidating.
Remember, in every moment you determine what you decide. In every moment, you either choose to play the long game or you choose the instant gratification. Which of these two you choose the majority of the time is what’ll determine your success and the quality of your life.
If you want to live a life filled with success — whether that means financial abundance, thriving health, great relationships or all of that combined — you need to be long-term oriented and stop falling prey to short-term instant gratifications.
Live in alignment with your ambition, goals and dreams — and act in a way that actually improves your future instead of making it more difficult for yourself.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab