Seize the day, or wait for a better one tomorrow?
Updated: Jul 25
If I offered you a marshmallow now, OR a whole packet in a couple of hours, what would you do? (Let's take discussions about whether you like marshmallows out of the picture first of course!)
This is what children were offered in the famous "Marshmallow Test" run at Stanford University in the 70s, and although not without its critics of the generalisability, it was found, on a longitundinal basis, that delayed gratification (holding out for something better a little later) was associated with better life outcomes.
We all know that a moment on the lips can result in an hour on the treadmill; a night of passion may well lead to a lifetime of regret; and impulse satiation may give as a momentary high, but also undo weeks of effort...so why do we do it?
Freud will say it is because of "the pleasure principle", we are seeking pleasure (and avoiding pain); neuroscience will refer to the hit of dopamine that instant gratification offers...and remind us that rats would continue to press a lever which gave them an electric shock because it was also wired to stimulate their dopamine centre...dopamine is very powerful, but not all that discerning. Positive psychology will even get in on the act and remind us of "carpe diem", and that there's no time like the present...although I should add that is much more about a counter argument to procrastination rather than a lifestyle guide!
However, our swipe left, swipe right world is also part of our problem of wanting things NOW...to a large degree we can have that - if we don't like something, there'll be something else to stimulate us soon enough via our technology. And marketing execs also get in on the act - with temptations such as "Buy Now Pay Later", or exploiting our Fear of Missing Out with Early Bird offers or encouraging us to get it before it's sold out...
AND historically, having what's in front of you now made some sense. It was only the 15-1800s when our life expectancy was on average around 30-40 years (I shouldn't even be here!)
BUT our bodies, and lifestyles - notably medicine and hygiene - have evolved and improved, and so too has our life expectancy - which now sits at around 70-80 years...we need to remind our brains we have a long future ahead of most of us that we might want to prepare for...as well as heed a stark warning that because of some of our unhealthy choices, epidemiologists are currently saying that preventable diseases such as T2 diabetes can start to curtail the much longer lifespan we currently enjoy.
So, how do we help ourselves prepare to embrace the future possibilities that await us, especially as we're likely to get there, as well as balance that sense of positivity in the now...purpose and drive can help.
1.Decide what you want your IDEAL LIFE to look like
- who is in it?
- what are you doing?
- where are you living?
- what problems are you solving?
- how are you going to be remembered?
2. Outline on this chart the steps you need to take to get there
- Then for each step, on a scale of 0-10, mark on it where you are right now
- Then at a time of temptation, or simply because you are looking for the next stimulation - do something that will move one of those steps up a notch...it doesn't have the be the full way, just from a 3-4 or a 5-6 will do!
AND REMEMBER - every day you walk a fine line between staying stuck in a world that you know well, but may not be inspired by; and the future possibilities that you have outlined for yourself. Every day you need to make little conscious decisions to move towards that ideal or stay where you are.
So, that marshmallow, what will you decide?
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt