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Why Instant Gratification is the Villain of Success

Why Instant Gratification is the Villain of Success

Please take a moment to consider some of the greatest creations in human history. I’m referring to magnificent structures like the Eiffel Tower; beautiful paintings like Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”; and heart-wrenching tragedies like William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” If the artists responsible for these works were ruled by instant gratification, do you believe they would have become masters of their craft? Somehow, I doubt it. They probably tried and failed a hundred times before they created art that still inspires people centuries later. Below are three signs your desire for instant gratification is destroying your odds of success.

You think the world owes you something.

Your parents might have raised you to believe you can do anything you set your mind to. They weren’t incorrect in that statement, but they might have left out a relevant detail. You can achieve anything you set your mind to as long as you put in the work that is required. Stephen King’s first hit novel, “Carrie,” got rejected dozens of times before he became a household name.

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J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, received a rejection note that told her “not to quit her day job” before she got published. Michael Jordan wasn’t born with an innate ability to play basketball. He spent years practicing his shot for six hours or more per day before he led the Chicago Bulls to ten NBA championships. If you’re not willing to put forth a high level of effort for a long period of time, then you might be ruled by instant gratification.

You believe you have all the answers.

Excellence requires precision and attention to detail. Self-published authors often dismiss marketing, because they think it is a distraction from writing (and then they wonder why their book didn’t sell better). Managers often dismiss emotional intelligence, because they think it is a distraction from productivity (and then they wonder why their employee turnover isn’t better).

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Personal trainers often dismiss positive psychology, because they think it is a distraction from training sessions (and then they wonder why their client’s compliance isn’t better). Our educational system might have raised you to believe you can be successful as long as you are good at a single thing. I hate to break it to you, but this belief is nothing but a pipe-dream. If you’re not willing to become well-versed in ALL of the subjects excellence requires, then you might be ruled by instant gratification.

You refuse to try things you’re not good at.

I’ve been attending a Pilates class for several months now, because my core strength needs work. My instructor told me she’s thrilled to have a dedicated male in her class. Most other men, she observed, struggle through one class and never come back. I know it’s hard to motivate yourself to do something you’re bad at, but that is the only way you will ever get any better at it.

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A few years ago, I went my first yoga class. I hated it. I couldn’t even reach my ankles in a bent-over stretch, much less my toes. Standing on one foot for balance poses made me so wobbly that I almost fell on my butt. My hips were so tight that I felt embarrassed. Now I love yoga. I can reach past my ankles, past my toes, and touch my palms to the ground. I can stand on one foot confidently, with no fear of falling. I can stretch my hips into positions that I couldn’t have imagined during my first class. Would I have achieved any of those things if I didn’t have enough patience to stick with it? Nope. I’d be just as rigid today as I was before. If you’re not willing to do things you suck at, then you might be ruled by instant gratification.

If it was meant to be easy, everybody would do it. Banish your desire for instant gratification, because it will get you nowhere.

Featured photo credit: I always wanted a happy ending…/Geraint Rowland via flickr.com

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More by this author

Daniel Wallen

Daniel is a writer who focuses on blogging about happiness and motivation at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on March 19, 2019

Easily Distracted? Here’s Your Solution

Easily Distracted? Here’s Your Solution

Are you reading this article because you’re currently searching for a solution or method to help improve your focus? Trying to find a way to concentrate better so that you can get more done in your day? Or, do you feel like you spend a lot of time easily distracted on things other than what you’re meant to really be focusing on?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! As our society becomes more and more advanced, there is much more information for us to digest and more opportunities to experience. This can definitely be overwhelming and distracting! Whether it’s a work proposal that you’re trying to focus on writing, or a goal in life that you’re striving for, distractions do get in the way of your focus towards those important things in your life. And, the distractions come in a wide variety!

For example, many of us are easily distracted by our mobile phones. Whether it’s the constant notifications popping up, or the need to scroll through your social media news feeds, these are all distractions that cost us time. There are also bigger distractions like wanting to go to a game on a beautiful day, or taking a weekend holiday even though you have a deadline due on Monday.

What are Distractions?

Let’s go deeper to break down and understand how distractions happen in the first place. Distractions are things that divert away your attention from the action that you’re trying to do. They make you lose focus and put you off track. The problem with distractions is that they not only cost time, they dilute your energy, too. Repeated interruptions of this sort can lead to demotivation, because you’ll feel like you’re overwhelmed… yet not getting anything done!

Contrary to popular belief, our brains perform best when we’re focused on one objective at a time. We’re generally not good at constantly switching our attention between different tasks. Multiple studies have shown that when we do this, the performance of each task suffers compared to if we focused on them one by one. So multitasking isn’t the best option when it comes to wanting to get more done quickly.

How Much Do Distractions Cost?

As I mentioned previously, in today’s society, we’re faced with so much information that it’s easy to be bombarded by distractions.

If you’re a typical working American, you’ll be distracted every 11 minutes; and, it will take you 25 minutes to settle down again to your task. Additionally, the more complicated your project, the longer it will take to regain your focus. This happens because your brain has to put in considerable effort when switching between complex objectives.

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Distractions have a huge cost on our focus and productivity. If you want to improve or increase your focus, you need to learn to deal with the distractions in your life.

What are Internal Distractions?

When it comes to distractions, we tend to think of them as external occurrences: your phone starts ringing, someone talks to you and interrupts your train of thought when you were immersed in something important, or the sudden onset of construction noise when you’re in an important meeting.

It’s very easy to blame external distractions as the cause when you can’t focus. But, there’s actually a hidden type of distraction beneath the surface that is just as, if not more, responsible for taking away your focus. These are Internal Distractions.

The problem with internal distractions is, if you’re not acutely aware of them, you can be wasting both time and energy without even knowing it. So, before tackling external distractions effectively, you first have to take care of your internal distractions.

Priority Chaos

There are a few types of internal distractions, but let’s start with probably the most common one: the concept of Priority Chaos.

One of the most common distractions we encounter is that we have too many options on hand. This can cause priority chaos.

For example, some people may find it hard to focus at home because there are too many options to choose from. You can choose to feed your dog, read a book, watch TV, have a snack or take a nap.

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Besides the costs of distraction mentioned before, priority chaos is a big demotivator. When there are too many potentially attractive options, it’s hard to focus your energy and choose one of them – ideally the one you should be doing.

Priority chaos is also a demotivator because it makes you feel guilty. When you let your internal distractions overtake your focus, you’re the one who chooses to divert your own attention and energy away from your task. So when the task you wanted to complete doesn’t get done, you can’t blame an external factor. Whether you do it consciously or not, you’ll end up blaming yourself!

Why Does Priority Chaos Happen?

Your brain subconsciously prioritizes tasks based on three factors.

  1. To fulfil an existing need. For example, you need to go to the bathroom urgently, so your brain is guaranteed to prioritize it.
  2. To achieve a certain feeling of satisfaction, such as the satisfaction of eating a delicious chocolate fudge cake.
  3. The perceived cost of achieving the benefit. What is the effort, energy or time required to complete this action?

The brain automatically take these 3 factors into account even when you’re not thinking about it.  

Unfortunately, unless you’re consciously making an effort, your brain is not always the best at making accurate judgement calls. It tends to have a bias towards short term benefits and short term costs.

As there are often many more options our brains link to short term benefits, when you’re trying to focus on a task that gives you a long term benefit, that task usually becomes low priority. This is the essence of Priority Chaos.

How to Overcome Priority Chaos?

The good news is that it’s not so difficult to overcome this common internal distraction.

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The first step that you can take is to identify what task needs the most focus to get accomplished. Once you have that figured out, simply break down the that task into smaller, bite-sized tasks. Each bite-sized task should have a very clear short term benefit (something that you can easily describe in one sentence), and a very clear short term cost (something that you can quantify, such as time spent).

For example, let’s say you have a grant proposal to write for an upcoming project at work. The first bite-sized task that you can accomplish is to outline the grant proposal and split it into 4 different categories. This will ensure that you cover everything that is needed, and allows you to focus on each section one at a time.

Also, set a time limit or duration for each bite sized task. The time limit should be short enough so that it’s a no-brainer to want to check it off. Remember, the brain has a bias towards short term benefits, so it’s likely you’ll find it hard to resist checking off a bite-sized task!

The next step would be to evaluate your other options. Besides focusing on your grant proposal, what are all the possible things that you could be doing that would divert your attention away? Be realistic about what they are! Write them all down, and list out the benefits and the costs associated. You don’t have to write them down in detail, just a general description will do.

For instance, instead of writing your proposal, you could spend 20 minutes watching a comedy series on Netflix. The benefit is that you get entertained and have a good laugh. The cost is that you’ve just lost 20 minutes of your time, and that comedy series did nothing to help you with the grant proposal.

Once you have your list completed, start prioritizing them. You have a time limit, so you need to order your tasks by priority, starting with the focus task as your top priority. Then fit the others around it.

For any remaining tasks on the list that won’t fit within your allocated time, don’t worry. You don’t have to give them up. Just schedule them for another time.

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Long and Short Term Benefits

As explained earlier, our brains are not good at evaluating and comparing short term and long term benefits.

Short term benefits usually have a relatively low cost and are concrete, allowing our brains to easily grasp them. We usually associate long term benefits with high cost, and these perceived costs are usually not as clear cut. The longer term it is, the more effort it takes to imagine the benefits. This automatically creates a mental barrier and resistance in our brains. As a result, we tend to trade long term gain for short term gains.

This is the reason why you might know that something is good for you in the long term, such as losing weight and exercising, but for some reason, you can’t force yourself to feel excited about it. On the other hand, you might know that something is bad for you, such as binge eating junk food. But, the anticipation of short term satisfaction overwhelms your conscious ability to resist it.

This is the next type of internal distraction that we face, and it is called Short & Long Term Mismatch. Thankfully, this can be tackled, too.

If you’d like to learn more about this internal distraction and how to overcome it, subscribe to our newsletter today, where you will automatically receive more of this knowledge that will allow you to be in greater control of your situation and actions.

There is More Than Focus alone!

Whether it’s wanting to increase your focus to be more productive, or wanting to manage your time better, here at Lifehack, we’re committed to helping you find and become a better you. If you’d like to truly transform your life around, you shouldn’t be focusing only on one area of your life–such as changing a career or learning to manage your time better, and expect life-changing results. Instead, you must focus on changing yourself in several areas at once–which are what I call the 7 Cornerstone Skills.

These 7 Cornerstone Skills will help you to build a long term foundation. It’s not teaching a set of independent skills — it’s one system with different aspects.

Here at Lifehack, we’ve created the perfect course that will enable you to learn all 7 skills, and as you go through the course, we’ll connect the dots into a single cohesive whole. You’ll progress on a journey of personal growth and transformation with each module that you complete. So if you’re feeling stuck in any area of your life today, start this journey with us here!

Featured photo credit: Erik Lucatero via unsplash.com

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