This past week I was in Boston for St. Patrick’s Day. As a reader of my emails, you might expect this one to contain either a motivational story from early American history, some lesson I pulled out of the ride of Paul Revere or at least exploits from a legendary night of bag pipes and green beer. If you were hoping to live vicariously through another Rooney adventure, I am sorry to disappoint you. This email has more to do with pain than pleasure.
Because this weekend I realized one of my secrets to success is to be able to tolerate pain now for pleasure later. Translation: I am good at giving up what I want now for what I want most. On this New England trip, instead of my usual Instagram-worthy shenanigans, I spent most of my time in a hotel room in Quincy, Massachusetts. Yes, I could have toured Fenway Park or visited Harvard Yard, but those activities would have made me more uncomfortable than hiding out in my hotel.
Because the pain of delivering a lousy daytime speech would not be something I was willing to trade for a nighttime of fun. Translation: You have to prepare to be uncomfortable now to enjoy more potential comfort later. So, instead of spending time in Uber rides to get to places I could see on another trip, I invested time in my room to make sure my presentation was on point. This simple act of “staying in” was just another example of my ability to delay gratification “coming out.”
Because I have learned that just about everything worthwhile I have ever achieved usually required me to be uncomfortable now to enjoy more comfortable later. Translation: Delaying gratification is a key to success. If you want to eventually succeed, you are often going to have to give up the “now” for “later.” And if you want to be successful over the long term, you better be prepared to delay gratification both often and potentially for a long time.
Because as I discovered this weekend, the pain this weekend didn’t stop after my speech. After presenting all day Saturday, I could have gone to the Boston Bruins game complete with UFC star Connor McGregor dropping the opening puck. But with my first of two flights leaving at 5am the next day, I decided to head back to the hotel and try to get enough rest to have the energy spend a full (and increasingly rare) day with my kids. Translation: To succeed you have to be prepared to trade a small immediate event for the bigger distant picture. Although sitting in the hotel again was less “fun,” I tolerated the pain of missing out on a game to get the pleasure of not missing out on my family.
If you want what others don’t have, you have to get comfortable with what most find uncomfortable.
Your success or lack thereof will ultimately be a measure of your ability to deal with the uncomfortable now to get comfortable later. Here are 10 things I have discovered as I tried to be more successful in certain areas of my life:
Building a business is uncomfortable.
Finishing a degree is uncomfortable.
Saving money is uncomfortable.
Eating healthy is uncomfortable.
Consistent workouts are uncomfortable.
Reading a book is uncomfortable.
Writing a book is uncomfortable.
Getting a black belt is uncomfortable.
Honest conversations are uncomfortable.
Parenting your kids is uncomfortable.
Want to do any of the things above? Then you will have to improve your ability to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. The great news? Your ability to tolerate discomfort is something you can develop. How have I developed my skill at delayed gratification? How was I able to choose between hockey and the hotel? How do I write these weekly emails instead of watching TV?
You must first recognize delayed gratification is not about willpower. It is a learned skill. If you find it hard to avoid bad food or have a tough time saving your money, you may believe these are due to not being genetically gifted in the delayed gratification department. Well, you are right; and your parents are to blame! But unfortunately, that is not an excuse since you are just like everyone else: born lacking the hardwiring to delay the now for later. Only until recent human history has delayed gratification become a skill necessary for success. Just like the farmer replaced the hunter gatherer, now you must plant the seeds of health, finance and education with the faith they will eventually bear fruit.
You must then agree skills are just a series of strategies. You might think my strategy to delay gratification would involve a complex calculation, but it starts with asking the first of 5 simple questions:
“Which choice right now will help me best to be successful later?”
Sorry Bruins, but in the case of the hockey game, but pausing to ask the first question proved sleep was the obvious choice because it was more important to me to be a good dad “later” than a good fan “now.” The question may seem easy to understand. Unfortunately, following through on the answer is hard to do because the skill of giving up what you want now for what you want most is not innate. And like any skill you aren’t born with, development requires awareness and practice.
Next you are going to have to take a leap of faith. Giving up something you want now for something that may or may not happen later is a lot like paying insurance on your future. And as you may have learned, people often don’t realize the importance of insurance until they need it and don’t have it. This leads to the second simple question I ask when assessing whether to delay an immediate pleasure:
“Will the “fruit” of this action be better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it?”
Delayed gratification isn’t a perfect system. It is a trade off. And since you can’t be sure now what will happen later, you need a little faith. Why does the farmer take the pain to plow the fields and plant the seeds? Because he has faith his work will pay off with greater pleasure of a crop later. He can’t control the weather, but he knows it is better to have excess grain than to have none. Planting those seeds is “insurance” on his livelihood. And the same goes for your actions. Every workout, healthy meal, book read, dollar saved or hour slept is a seed you plant now for future fruits of success, health and life. You shouldn’t spend time coming up with excuses about what it costs you to you to plant the seeds. You should concern yourself more about what can happen if you don’t.
To develop your ability to delay gratification, you need to increase your “pain tolerance” with constant practice. With enough repetition, the uncomfortable will become the comfortable. As you begin to realize the benefits of your long term actions, the pain of immediate gratification will eventually become more than the pain of delaying it. Over the last two decades of serious practice delaying gratification I am now proud to say:
It is more painful for me to spend money than to save.
It is more painful for me to watch TV than to read.
It is more painful for me to eat ice cream than broccoli.
It is more painful for me to lay on the couch than to train hard.
It is more painful for me to surf the internet than write this email.
Now you should understand delayed gratification just takes awareness and the practice of a few simple actions. The more you practice anything, the more comfortable it will become. So, what are the most important things you can do to practice becoming more comfortable?
Delaying gratification requires a crystal ball. It means you have to look into the future at what you want and decide if what you are doing right now is getting you closer or further from your goal. To help you practice, I want you to go through the following exercise:
Who, What, and Where will you be a year from now?
STEP 1: On a piece of paper, write down your goals for the following three areas.
Action Item: Examples could be where you would like to be in terms of body fat, weight, muscle size, clothes size, blood lipid level or blood sugar level.
Action Item: Examples could be amount of money saved, amount of money invested, zero debt, mortgage paid off, credit card paid off, or new purchase you want in the future.
Action Item: Examples could be the amount of money you earn, a promotion, development of a new skill, completing a new degree, books read, or books written.
STEP 2: After you have compiled your list, identify your most important one-year goal in each area.
STEP 3: For the next 365 days, ask the final three questions before you perform any action related to your fitness, money and career:
Will the actions I take now get me closer or further from my one-year goal?
Is what I am about to do now, more important than what I really want one year from now?
Will what I am about to do help or hurt me or my family one year in the future?
If success doesn’t happen in an instant, then why would you think instant gratification would get you there?
I get it. No one likes to delay anything. Just go to an airport and check your response when your plane is “delayed” a few hours.
The way you delay will either work for you or against you.
If you shorten the delay, the comfort may be immediate, but there can be more discomfort later.
If you lengthen the delay, the discomfort may be immediate, but there can be more comfort later.
Instead of “embrace the grind” I say Embrace The Delay. Get comfortable with the delay and you will win in the end.
The delay is a decision. And that decision (and your future) is all up to you.
10 years is harder to predict, but 10 years from now is going to happen.
Who you will be, what you will have and what you will do will have a lot to do with your ability to delay the now for later.
What you do now to take care of the later.
Not really harder, just a choice.
Eat now to be healthy later. Train now to be stronger later. Save now to be richer later. Sleep now for more energy later. Study now for a better career later.
Take pride in your ability to be uncomfortable. If you can do it, to me it means you are “tough.”
You may have heard, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
Is what I am about to do now going to help or hurt what I want to happen later?
Can you give up what you want now for what you want most?
This takes practice.
This takes willpower.
This takes just a moment to ask a simple question.
Keep your eyes on the prize.
It is a decision.
And it is all those little decisions added up over time.
And you can start right now.
And it is a skill that takes practice.
Yours in Strength,
P.S. Want to know all my coaching secrets and help others reach their goals?
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