If you have ever been on a diet you have had to deal with choosing between an unhealthful treat or a healthful alternative. Not unlike the woman having to choose between a donut or an apple in the picture. The traditional advice is to delay your gratification. To use your willpower to keep yourself from consuming whatever sugar, fat, salt, (list an unhealthful food quality) infused treat you desire. But what if I told you that you will never go far with delayed gratification? In this post I will explain what willpower is and why it is not only keeping you from going far, but will hold you back.
The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment
One of the most famous, (and possibly infamous) experiments that showed the power of delayed gratification is the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment took some children and presented them with a marshmallow. The researchers told the children that they could eat the marshmallow now or in 15 minutes they would be given 2 marshmallows.
Not to most people’s surprise only a few children were capable of earning that second marshmallow. However, the researchers checked on these individuals later in life. The ones who earned that second marshmallow tended to have fewer health problems including obesity, had higher SAT scores, and fewer behavior issues. What the children who earned the second marshmallow did is they forced the marshmallow out of their mind. They turned around, sung, or closed their eyes.
Do Not Delay Gratification, Control Temptation
The key for success is not delayed gratification as much as it is controlled temptation. For instance, if you are on a diet you should not be buying donuts much less have one in your hand with an apple. Even an incorruptible superhuman would eat the donut in front of them, it’s just a matter of when. You do not need to will yourself to keep yourself from eating free donuts. You should avoid situations where you are near donuts.
Granted you cannot eliminate all temptations in life. I’m pretty sure even the most optimistic religious figures have said that life is full of temptations. However, if you want to avoid eating donuts one of the easiest ways is to not walk down the donut aisle. My wife and I have zero reasons to ever walk down the donut aisle of our store. I avoid the 6 out of 8 ways for me to go to work which have a donut shop near it. Seriously they are everywhere now.
Delayed Gratification Is Not A Trait, But A Mental Muscle
Have you ever delayed gratification? It is hard. You probably feel tired after using your willpower to keep yourself from doing something you regret. Do not feel bad about that, that is completely normal.
A less famous, but somehow even more torturous experiment showed that delayed gratification requires grueling effort. This experiment is the chocolate and radish experiment. In this experiment the subjects were put in a room smelling of freshly baked chocolate cookies with pictures of sweet chocolate items. One group was served these cookies while another group was fed radishes. No, this is not a circle of hell Dante forgot to write about, but it sounds like it.
The subjects were given a persistence puzzle to solve. What the researchers uncovered is that the people fed the sweet cookies spent more time on the puzzle and made further strides in the puzzle. The people fed the radishes gave up early on.
The persistence puzzle is another test for self-control. The basic idea is that people with more willpower would spend more time on the puzzle. However, those who indulged appeared to have more willpower while those who did not had apparently less willpower. What this experiment showed is that willpower is more like a muscle than a trait. It requires effort to use, and if you delay gratification too long you will feel tired.
I know I feel tired if I delay a desire too long. Therefore, I try to control temptations instead of delaying gratification. I am not saying to submit to all of your desires, but just saying if you put yourself in a situation where you are around your desires, you will either submit to those desires, or be exhausted. If you waste your efforts fighting your desires how would you put these efforts in to be happy or even to forge your wealth.
Delayed gratification is overrated. While it can help you avoid situations that will hurt you, avoiding temptation is a far more effective strategy. Do not confuse delayed gratification with tactical patience though. Delayed gratification is waiting for something you want simply because what you want does not contribute to your goal. Tactical patience is waiting for the best time to take action so you can achieve your goal.
Patience is always a virtue. But if you are only patient for something that does not contribute to your overall goals, you are just delaying your desires instead of controlling them. Controlling your desires by controlling temptation is a far better strategy to forge your wealth.