How Successful Will You Be?
The ability to delay gratification is a major key to predicting our success in life because if we plan our destiny with logical steps and details, it is necessary to follow that plan if we want to achieve our goal. Pursuing instant gratification is a moment by moment behavior that interferes with long range plans. When we procrastinate to perform the necessary actions to fulfill our long range plan, we fall into this moment by moment living. That’s when the drive-thru calls our name and the couch looks better than the gym or the track. These behaviors are life changing and can be life threatening. Too many nights online with pizza and beer instead of being in the gym with protein and water will make drastic changes in our appearance and in our body chemistry.
An Ancient Problem
As far back as Aristotle and Socrates procrastination has been known to be a problem. Ancient Greeks developed a word for it, Akrasia. It means to act against your better judgement, such as not following through on what we know we need to do, the way that we might plan to work out or meal prep, but we don’t. (1)
Akrasia, or procrastination, works through a “time inconsistency” , or the tendency of human beings to favor immediate gratification over long term rewards. When we make long range plans we are creating our lives. The steps to our goal are clearly laid out in a logical, sequential manner that will absolutely give us what we want but most of the time, most people will ditch the entire plan and program for a quick fix that will only give us a moment of pleasure. Think about the cake eaten in secret after declaring to the world that you’re going to get healthy. We’re so ashamed of that behavior that we hide it, quite often, and yet the cycle of what we call self-sabotage occurs over and over, keeping us from success. Our brains are wired to seek out a quick fix. To become proactive, or take control, we have to develop coping strategies to press through to our long term goals.
1-Commitment Device- This is where we make a decision before the challenge occurs to be successful by taking action that prevents instant gratification over long term rewards. If you can’t resist Oreos, don’t buy them. If you can’t resist gambling, have yourself put on the “Banned” list at the casinos. Take charge of your bad habits and they can’t take charge of you.
Commitment Devices help us design our future actions. I invested in home gym equipment so that I never have the excuse to skip a workout. I have to walk past it several times a day. It leaves me without excuse. I got what I needed to do the work that I need to do. I don’t buy food that contains sugar. It does not enter my house. I never have to decide if it’s okay to eat “that”. If it’s in my house, I can eat it.
2-Reduce the friction of starting.
Doing the work is not the hardest part of our commitments, it’s starting the work. It is also the most important part. We all know that once we get started on anything, we tend to keep going, regardless of how hard or tedious it may be. We have to build the habit of getting started.
The most important part of getting started is an individual act of commitment such as tying on your athletic shoes, walking up to the bar, step onto the field or beginning the prep for a healthy meal. This is the willingness to start. Once we exhibit that behavior, our brains understand that we’re “going in” and will begin to generate the energy and focus needed to complete the task. Nike was onto something with their slogan, “Just Do It.”
3-Use Implementation Intentions.
This is deciding exactly when, where and how you will fulfill these obligations to yourself. Instead of saying, “I need to work out.”, say I’m going to work out Monday through Thursday, after work and take three rest days during which I can walk my dog or hike.” This is just an example. Insert your schedule here and whatever you commit to, do it. That way when Monday rolls around, there is no question about working out. It has already been decided. These Implementation Intentions increase compliance with long term goal setting by 200-300%.
Aristotle also had a word for being proactive, or creating our lives. He called it enkrateia. It is the opposite of akrasia, or being reactive. It means to be in power over oneself or what we refer to as self-discipline. Learn to live a life of enkrateia rather than akrasia and live to see your best life in the years that will end in decline for those who do not. It’s up to you. What will you decide?