Day 651: Discipline, Instant Gratification & Accepting Failure

After watching this Talk by Dr Sean Richardson, the 'mental toughness' he describes is one dimension of discipline. Discipline can have quite a broad application, ranging from delaying gratification to standing your ground on something that you know is what is best.

What is instant gratification? It's wanting something (an experience or reward usually) RIGHT NOW without consideration for any future consequences or results. Here are a few examples:
  • Buying a new item of clothing that is something that you "must have" without considering the origin of that item or the system as a whole that you are supporting by impulse buying that particular item.
  • Doctors over-prescribing and running more tests than is actually reasonable out of a sense of "at least you are doing something". 
Sean argues that the desire for instant gratification comes from a part of our brains, that it is a natural response to have that comes, in part, from the fight or flight reflex which is geared to ACT NOW in order to preserve your life. I am not going to go into this instinctual aspect, but rather focus on the desire itself. One point that I will mention which was a good point Sean made is that real fight or flight is quite rare for a lot of people (especially those living in first-world countries) - real threats to your survival is rare. What does happen quite frequently is threats to your ego.

Instant gratification is a big contributor to postponement - to delaying doing something that you should do and that will benefit you in the long term in order to do something that is "nice" in this moment. Instant gratification is a lack of foresight, it is not seeing the bigger picture. It is being so focused on your immediate experience that you cannot comprehend what your future may or may not hold - and, more importantly, connect with your future self in a meaningful and empathic manner.

So now you understand what instant gratification is and a bit about the consequences thereof - what then would be the solution to stop falling prey to your impulses and compulsions and start taking control of yourself in order to create a life that you will be satisfied with, not only now, but for the rest of your days?

Part of the solution is twofold: firstly you must develop discipline - and part of developing discipline is accepting failure. In order to achieve your goals you must accept your failures - by not doing so you limit yourself and your growth. Let me elaborate: Focus on your actions, on doing the best that you are able to in that moment - don't focus on the results of either winning or losing. If you do the absolute best that you can then you will be able to accept your failures more readily. Failures are opportunities to learn and grow - do not take them personally. Failure can become a challenge rather than a self definition - the moment you define yourself as a failure then that is what you will live and become. You will then limit your choices and expressions to fit within your definition of yourself as a 'failure'. You will justify your inaction by telling yourself that you would have failed anyway so there was no point in even trying.

Another interesting aspect that Sean mentions is that if you believe that effort is the key to success then you will see failure as a challenge, but if you see ability (whether you are able to do something or not) as the key to your success then you will give up. Changing your way of thinking and behaving is in itself challenging - but entirely possible and wholly worth it. Changing something as simple as delaying gratification can contribute to creating a world that Sean imagines at the end of his Talk. It is well within our ability to change the world and ourselves - WE are each the KEY.