Saying YES while delaying gratification – How do we find the sweet spot?

 

This article was originally planned to be about the importance of saying “YES” as often as possible to enjoy life to the fullest. It was meant for my own benefit as much as anyone else’s. While thinking about how to frame the topic I realised I couldn’t write an honest article with only one side of the story covered. That being the story of YES. My feelings are that while it is important to say YES, it is more important to figure out what we should say YES to.

 

I recently travelled solo for an extended period which afforded me considerable time for personal reflection. In this time, I made a promise to myself that I would get out and do more “fun” things, say yes to more adventures and in general try to have a better balance in my life. Anyone that knows me, will know that this runs very counter to the way I have lived my life over the last 5+ years. The trouble I found with committing to this promise is that I attribute a lot of my growth as a person and my personal achievements to my ability to delay gratification, and say no to things that seem like they would be a lot of fun, but that I don’t feel serve me long term.

 

For me……………….

 

Saying YES = short term gratification and enjoyment.

Saying NO = Long term success and fulfillment.

 

The ability to delay gratification has been shown to be one of the most important traits that leads to long term success. It is the ability to put off short term satisfaction and enjoyment, with a view of a far-reaching end goal. It plays a huge part in people’s health and fitness, financial situation and business successes.

 

There is a very famous psychology experiment known as the Stanford Marshmallow experiment which was performed during the 1960s using young children and marshmallows. The test was designed to assess a child’s ability to defer his/her gratification. The method used in this experiment was to leave a child aged between 4-6 years old alone in a room with a marshmallow (or cookie). The child was told that they could eat the treat, but that if they waited until the experimenter returned to the room before eating it that they would be given an additional treat. Some children ate the treat immediately after the experimenter left, others tried valiantly to distract themselves and lasted most of the time before succumbing to temptation, and other children were able to resist the temptation with the knowledge of a larger pay off in the end. When the researchers followed up with these children many years down the track it was shown that the children who could delay for the longest, tended to have better overall life outcomes as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, Body mass index and other quality of life measures.

 

Delayed gratification is choosing not to eat that dessert because you have weight loss goals, it is not buying those shoes because you are saving for a holiday, it is investing money instead of spending it, and it is imperative to long term success.

 

In stark contrast to myself, is a great friend of mine who for the sake of this article we will call…… David. David is the ultimate YES man who has a massive FOMO (fear of missing out) attitude towards life. He readily admits to me that he will always say yes to something that sounds fun and exciting, and then figure out the consequences of that choice later. He is the friend everyone wants and needs because he is always up for adventures and it’s always a great time. I can say without doubt that he enjoys his life well more than the average person and quite possibly more than anyone I know. People are drawn to him for this reason. He is fun and outgoing. However, this “YES” attitude comes with its own downfalls. Its effects reach into work hours, diet, health, fitness, and finances. Saying YES to everything can be very time-consuming and often expensive. It forces you to re-allocate time to make up missed work, taking valuable time away time from looking after yourself and getting enough sleep. David is the first to admit that his love of saying YES has also left a negative footprint on certain aspects of his life.

 

So this is where I pose the question…… How do we decide when to say yes, and when we need to say no for the betterment of our future?

 

For me this comes down to our ability to identify what involvements will add to our overall life experience and what things we are just doing to satisfy a temporary emotion, like boredom.

To make educated decisions on whether something will add to your overall life experience, you need to have a clear idea of where you want to be and who you want to be 5, 10, 20 years from now. All decisions then refer to whether your actions are leading you down the path to being this person. One of my favourite questions I repeatedly ask myself is “How would the person I’d like to be, do the things I’m about to do?”, in relation to the topic of this article we should change it to “would the person I want to be, do the thing I’m about to do”.

 

To illustrate this point to my clients I often use a very simple example of eating Ice-Cream.

I always aim for my clients to keep balance in their life while working towards their goals. I never ask them to completely remove enjoyable activities from their life even if they aren’t ideal for their physical or performance goals. It is not sustainable, nor is it what life is about. Life is to be enjoyed, but that enjoyment can’t come at the expense of consistent lapses of discipline, or without consequences to your actions. It’s about choosing the correct moments to enjoy, and the correct moments to show discipline. The setting of your choices, rather than the action itself, plays a huge role in this.

Ice Cream Example 1: You are out on date night with your partner. You have a babysitter at your house looking after your kids, you’ve just enjoyed an amazing meal together and found the chance to talk without being disturbed or interrupted by your children. The weather is beautiful so you decide to go for a walk outside together after dinner and think an ice-cream would be just the thing to top off the evening. This is a massive YES situation to the ice-cream. The choice to enjoy that together in that moment enhances your experience together and any negative associations with eating the ice cream are outweighed by the enjoyment of the moment. You assist in the creation of a night that you’ll remember and one that brings your relationship closer together. All by loosening the restraints of discipline ever so briefly.

Ice Cream Example 2:  You’re sitting at home on a standard Wednesday night. You’ve finished dinner, you’re sitting on the lounge with rubbish on the TV. You’ve scrolled through Facebook for an hour refreshing the page and looking at the same things over and over, you get bored so you go for a bowl of ice-cream. In this instance, you are eating to stave off boredom and potentially loneliness. For me, this is a huge NO situation. The choice to eat the ice cream in this setting does not enhance your overall life experience. Chances are you will eat the ice cream, enjoy it for the 3 minutes it takes you to eat it, and then you will feel even worse about yourself afterwards. I don’t envision those same feelings of guilt in example 1.

 

If Ice-cream isn’t your thing, then another example would be drinking alcohol with friends at a birthday party where everyone is having a good time, or sitting at home by yourself knocking back 10 beers. Only one of these events seems remotely worthy of the next-day hangover.

 

Can you see how the exact same action performed in different contexts can be viewed so differently?

 

Ice-cream aside, this is the theory I feel serves us well for all decisions we make. When to say YES, and when to say NO. By using this method of thinking about whether the action will add to our overall life experience, we can say YES to many more things, but also maintain the ability to say NO to the things that don’t take us towards our self-chosen purpose. You can use this when deciding who you give your free time to, what you do in your spare time, where you allocate your energy at work, what holiday plans you make, whether you go out for dinner or drinks, whether you save your money, spend your money or invest your money, and for any other choices laid out in front of you.

 

There is nothing wrong with deciding to do something simply because you think it will be fun if you feel like you need some enjoyment in your life. Not every single moment of your life must be directed at some ultimate higher purpose, but we also need to reconcile with the fact that every choice we make has a consequence attached to it.

 

Positive choices = positive consequences

Negative choices = negative consequences.

 

We are all free to choose, however none of us are free from the consequences of our choices. We all must learn to find the balance between saying YES for short-term enjoyment, and NO for achieving our long-term goals. Having a long-term vision of your ideal self and where you want to be will make the correct choice more apparent for all of us. Then it’s just a matter of being mentally strong enough, and having the right motivation to make that choice.

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