What my weight loss journey taught me about delayed gratification.
As many people have done so at some point in their lives, I recently committed myself to losing weight. I am quite aware of my faults – so I knew that going to the gym was not a good option. I would always find a reason (excuse), to not go. So my method of working out, was just in my house, doing sets throughout the day – 8am to 5pm, so 10 sets. Even this, I sometimes could still brush a set a side, because I am “just too busy” folding my laundry. Also, if I missed the 8am first set, then I convinced myself that there was no point to go through with the workout that day.
The Reward System
So after the initial easy-to-procrastinate phase, I managed to get more consistent with my daily sets. Like many would have done, I used the “No Pain, No Gain” mantra, and of course, rewarding myself – if I did the sets for 6 days, on Sunday, I’d reward myself with a rest day and nice meal. This seemed to work for a while. Yet, I still could feel the excuses trying to build itself up in the back of my mind. More often, the Monday after my “reward day”, I’d convince myself that I did so well the week before, I could afford to not workout today.
The ‘No-System’ System
It was at this point, I started to question the whole strategy. The problem with this method, is that you’re still giving the workout a negative energy. It is a chore you have to do, something to get over and done with. A suffering you have to get through, to reap the rewards. It occurred to me, as long as I kept thinking this way, I’m always going to find an excuse to not do it. Discipline does help me to overcome the excuses sometimes, but since we don’t always have the mental energy to keep fighting it.
So I tried to change my way of thinking. I took away the “Rewards”, I took away the “Motivation Mantras”. I even stopped looking at the number of sets for the day. I took each set, just at that point in time, and just made me think of it as “something I just had to do”. There was no convincing myself of WHY I need to do it, it just had to be done. This took away any emotional connections to the workout sets – both positive and negative.
It makes sense that Nike uses the slogan “Just Do It”, or self help books talk about “Just focus on the next step”. It was easier to get each of them done, because I never saw them as just being 1 or the many things I had to do. I also no longer needed to reward myself, because I no longer felt like I was suffering through something. I wasn’t looking forward to anything – it was just the thing to do now.
Delayed Gratification (& Compounding)
So this got me thinking about Delayed Gratification. For those unclear of the term, delayed gratification, is where you sacrifice something in the short term, for greater gains in the long term.
The common example of this, which is where I learn about it, is the experiment with a bunch of kids. The kids were given the option of having 1 cookie now, or wait, and get 2 cookies later. The end result of the experiment, was the children who choose to wait for the 2 cookies later, generally fared better in life.
I had always been under the impression, that this was a “sacrifice”. Just like the weight loss, it was a stage of suffering that I choose, so I can be rewarded later. Of course, this meant every day that I waited for the reward, I’d have been fighting against an ever-expanding negativity pushing against this sacrifice.
Possibly, the most relatable example I can give to this – is my savings. I’ve always been bad at saving up money. I could manage being disciplined for a month or 2, but then I’d find an excuse to spend a lot of it – on something that, I had convinced myself was important at that time. This usually ends up just collecting dust, then being sold off at 1/3 the price at a garage sale.
Everytime I put money into the savings account, I felt I was cutting away a part of me. It felt painful. Seeing it in the account, just sitting there, taunting me and reminding me of making a sacrifice. I had to have constant discipline against the temptation to spend it. The bigger it got, the more difficult it was to resist.
So perhaps I should be thinking of this, just like I had done with the weight loss. I have to stop thinking it as a sacrifice, and I have to stop seeing it as a total. I have to just stop thinking about it, and make it as “something I just do”. The act of doing itself, is the reward.
I’m going to now start approaching everything this way. I’m not going to think about the reward I’m going to get at the end, or even think about how many steps to get there. I’m just going to focus on what needs to be done now, and just do it.
I’ll keep updating this with the months, to show how this works out for me, or doesn’t.