I've been thinking about an article I read recently. It was about a study a psychologist did involving pre-school kids. In the study he took the kids aside one at a time and offered them a treat, but told them that if they didn't eat it, he'd give them more in a few minutes. Then he would leave the room, and come back in a few minutes.
The interesting thing was that years later he followed up on these kids and the ones the were able to wait had better test scores, went to better colleges, had better jobs, and experienced more success in life than those that didn't.
I've realized that almost all behavior involves choosing between instant gratification and delayed gratification. If I could just learn to wait, I'd be a much better person.
In business I see this type of decision a lot. For example, many times a choice that would lead to a quick buck, would produce the opposite result in the long term. Selling cheap products with wider profit margins has its appeal, but in the long term has many shortfalls. And I wonder whether most of the economic problems we are currently facing aren't due to a market environment in which instant gratification ruled the day.
The same applies to personal matters. In fact I would argue that any choice which results in instant gratification is the wrong choice. All such choices erode and dull our senses, diminishing the real value of consequences, hard work, diligence, and temperance. For everything worth striving for, there is a shortcut to a counterfeit.
So I ask myself why it is so hard to make the hard choices. As Rilke said, "that something is difficult should be all the more reason for us to do it." Why do I struggle to put off the natural tendency to take the easy route to false pleasure, when I know that the hard route leads to true joy?
I wonder whether I would have eaten the treat or waited for more. I don't know. In grade school I always saved my school lunch dessert for last, and I always ate everything I was served. Do you know how good Jello tastes after gagging down soggy spinach? I do. Yet I continue to choose instant gratification in so many instances.
I want to have control.