Instant gratification is something that everyone experiences. Giving in to what we should do for a short-term pleasure always seems to make sense at the time. But long-term success requires a much different approach.
The way to long-term success is actually to give up the idea that we need everything now and instead learn how to leverage time.
Using time in this way isn’t something new or unique. In fact investors have understood this principle for decades and applied it to achieve financial success. They rely on aspects of investing such as compound interest, long-term stock market stability, and saving small amounts of money over time.
But understanding the role time plays in our goals is incredibly important. If you needed $10,000 tomorrow it would be an incredibly difficult task to earn that much money that quickly. But if you were told that in 10 years you will need $10,000 then it becomes much more achievable. You could simply save $2.74 per day (this doesn’t include any interest to simplify things). This could be achieved by eliminating our morning Starbucks or packing lunches a few days per week.
But money isn’t the only thing that is impacted by time. Our health and fitness also rely on time. If we want to lose 50 lbs. by tomorrow we will find it just about impossible. But can we lose 50 lbs. within 10 years? This would be to lose .42 lbs. per month.
Earning an advanced degree also relies on this idea of leveraging time. Putting in a few extra hours per week over 2 years is much more achievable than trying to cram a lot of information in a very short period of time.
Leveraging time is one of the key elements of systems and habits work. It breaks down big goals and ambitions and turns them into smaller incremental steps. It focuses solely on continuing the small steps to form habits, which then become automatic.
Taking advantage of this isn’t very difficult. It could be as simple as saving a little bit from each paycheck or finding ways to lower the caloric intake in order to start losing weight.
But the challenge comes because we all are pulled towards instant gratification. We want it now. In fact this desire is so strong that we will often do what is worse in the long run in order to gain the pleasurable feelings NOW.
Just thinking about how much you want to do something different isn’t enough. Motivational quotes or messages aren’t enough. What we need is something more consistent that will continue to pull us towards long-term success and away from instant gratification.
That is the other great benefit of using systems and habits to improve. There seems to be a direct correlation to instant gratification and habit. I noticed it once I put in place some positive habits around ordering food at restaurants.
For years I would look at a menu and decide what looks good. I would also look to the least expensive items first. Naturally I ate a lot of burgers and chicken sandwiches. But over time I start to force myself to first look for healthy alternatives such as grilled chicken or fish.
I didn’t even realize how powerful this new habit was until the other day. I had been to the doctor and found out my cholesterol lowered and was back in the proper range. I decided to take the family to a restaurant and order something unhealthy since I hadn’t in so long.
As I reviewed the menu I kept coming back to the healthy options. My wife would ask me what I was getting and when I told her the fish and broccoli she would say, “really I thought you weren’t going to eat healthy tonight?”
Even when I deliberately wanted to choose something unhealthy my habit of ordering the healthiest option on the menu took over. It really took a lot of effort on my part just to order the burger and fries!
But this is how we combat instant gratification. We make positive choices over and over again. We start small and start with the choice in front of us. As we continue to choose the right steps we start to form habits around this decision-making process. Over time it becomes more natural to do the right thing than to cave in to instant gratification.
Overcoming instant gratification and leveraging time is important for us to understand in order to improve. Improvement can be extremely difficult or it can be easy. If we focus on the long-term success and build positive habits through small steps we can achieve our goals.