My friend thought I should call this blog entry I Ate the Marshmallow and My Life Fell Apart. More on that later....
Most of us have become slaves to our every impulse. See it. Want it. Get it. Then we can't figure out why we don't have money to go on vacation or accept the invitation to go out to dinner and a show with friends, or cash to replace that rust-bucket on wheels we call a car.
DELAYED GRATIFICATION is a sign of maturity. To deny yourself what you want right now in order to get what you want down the road takes willpower. Here's the thing...it also BUILDS willpower. You're strengthening a muscle and it takes time to grow strong. Are you able...are you willing...to deny your immediate desire for a greater payback later?
Here's where the marshmallow comes in...
About 40 years ago, a professor at Stanford University conducted what is now a famous study on delayed gratification in children. Dr. Mischel gathered a group of four-year-olds and gave them each a marshmallow. He told them that while he was out of the room, they had a choice. They could either eat the marshmallow they were given immediately OR they could wait fifteen minutes and earn a second marshmallow.
Most couldn't hold out so they gobbled down their one marshmallow. Only about thirty percent waited the full fifteen minutes and earned a second treat. Honestly, with four-year-olds, I'm surprised any of them waited. If you did that experiment with chocolate, I'm not sure I could wait...at 40 (and some change.)
They followed up a decade later and those children who held out for the double portion, as adolescents, had higher SAT scores. In their 40's and 50's, they had better coping skills, were more emotionally stable and less likely to fall into addiction than their marshmallow-eating friends. This is where the complicated neuroscience comes in about the desire and decision-making parts of the brain. I won't get into all that, but the point is clear: To reach your ultimate goal, you can't get distracted by the temporary pleasures along the way.
You can take what looks good now, or wait for God's best. That's what it boils down to.
Science has finally come around to realizing what God knew all along. If you're not self-disciplined by nature, you can be self-disciplined by nurture. You can retrain your brain. It's moldable. You are not doomed to live an out of control life. I mean, come on, if we weren't able to "put on" self-control, our Father wouldn't have instructed us to develop it and practice it.
Whether we're talking about budgeting money or budgeting carbs, we make choices all day long to either take the small NOW reward or hold off for the larger LATER reward. We make decisions that either get us closer to our ultimate goal or stall our progress. First, you have to know what your ultimate goal is. Let's start there....
Know Your Values. What are the top priorities in your life? What do you hold most dear? The best goals are the ones that stem from your core Godly values.
Set Your Goals. Keeping your values in mind, set your goal(s). Maybe you're trying to start a savings. Maybe you want to lose 20 pounds. Maybe you know you need more time with God. Perhaps you want more time with your family. Whatever it is, you have to know what you really want so you aren't jerked around by your whims.
Picture the Finish Line. When you're tempted, imagine the negative consequences of following your impulses and envision what reaching your goal will look like. Let that vision motivate you.
Then, it's simple...Maximize what gets you to your goal and minimize what doesn't. Notice I said it's simple. I didn't say it's easy. The concept isn't complicated, but putting it into practice takes practice. It's worth it, though. With every choice to delay gratification in favor of your ultimate goal, you get stronger and you'll find you become more disciplined in other areas of your life, as well.
Hey, listen...If you make the wrong choice, don't give up. If you give in to your impulse and splurge on a new pair of shoes, it isn't the end of the world. Another chance to make a goal-oriented choice will come along soon and you get a do-over. The more we practice holding off for a larger reward, the more we train ourselves to set goals and navigate our lives toward reaching them. Resisting temptation in favor of our ultimate goal builds a better life and a better YOU all the way around.