Earlier this summer, a revelation struck me while I was out in my yard attempting to grow grass. Because the grass I was trying to grow was in spots all over (102 dog piss spots to be exact), it was quite the undertaking. I took this picture right after I mowed the first time after planting the grass seed. To protect the seed and keep it damp, we chose to mow around as many of them as we could while the grass took off. I laughed out loud as I thought about how this grass growing adventure is all about delayed gratification. I have no choice but to be patient, keep watering it, add more grass seed as necessary, and wait. Then wait some more. Pray for sun. Keep on watering. And wait. I also knew I’d have to deal with my lawn looking like this for some time as improvements weren’t going to happen overnight. In fact, I knew there would be progress occurring under the surface that might take weeks for me to see. I started pondering why I found this whole task so frustrating and then I remembered; I’m not a naturally patient person.
There are many sayings that glorify the idea of delayed gratification. “Patience is a virtue.” “Good things come to those who wait.” “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you that I’m not the most patient person. When I decide I want something, I generally want it yesterday. Every time we’ve moved into a different house (and we’ve had 5 of them since we’ve been married), within a week of moving it, you’d think we’d lived there for years. I’m a typical impulse buyer because when I see something I want, I WANT it. This could largely explain my inability to clean up my diet. I see chocolate. I eat it.
You get the picture.
I am, however, a mother. I’ve potty-trained one kid and am in the midst of working with my second. I’ve tried to get my youngest son to stop biting. I attempted to nurse babies. I’ve taken pacifiers away. We’ve battled ear infections, fevers and teething. Motherhood has handed me a big ol’ pile of situations where it didn’t really matter what I wanted, I had to wait it out to see improvements.
There are things right now I’m dealing with that force me to exercise patience and self-control, even if it’s against my nature. I cut my hair short last year and I’m now growing it back out. Patience. I’m pregnant. I mean, really?!?! Patience. We’re trying to get our house ready for arrival of this child and my husband would much rather golf than tackle my amazing list. Patience. (Just for the record, he’s been pretty incredible lately. There. I gave him a genuine and heartfelt compliment. I even made it public.)
As I was out in my yard thinking about delayed gratification, I couldn’t help but think of the one area of my life though that continues to tap my patience meter: my professional life. And by professional life, I’m referring to my own businesses, not just How Mommy Got Her Groove Back but also my network marketing business. I want results. I want success. I want to help people. And I want it yesterday.
Here’s the good news: there is hope for me. And you too, if you struggle with exercising patience and self-control. We can actually learn how to stretch our ‘patience muscle’. With practice and focus, we can become better at both self-control and the intended result of delayed gratification.
To test my thoughts on this, I reenacted an experiment often referred to as the Marshmallow Experiment that was conducted by Stanford professor of psychology, Walter Mischel, in the late 1960s, early 1970s. The intent of the experiment was to test the self-control and patience of the test subjects along with their ability to delay gratification.
My test subjects were my kids, Andrew (5) and Carter (very nearly 3). In this experiment, you tell the subjects they have two choices. 1) When you leave the room, they can eat one marshmallow, which you leave on the table. OR 2) If they don’t eat the first one, when you return after a set amount of time, which in my case, was about 3 minutes, (in the original experiment they were gone for 15 minutes, but with Carter’s attention span, I doubt he still would have been at the table), they could have 2 marshmallows.
In the original Stanford experiment, they found that some kids naturally just gobbled up the first marshmallow without so much as a thought and others were able to exercise self-control and wait for the bigger reward. They then followed the journey of these children and discovered that those who were able to delay gratification did better overall in life, including achieving higher SAT scores. It’s true that one’s ability to exercise self-control, think beyond the moment and make good choices considering the long-term consequences is certainly helpful in life. It’s at the root of what allows us to reach goals, make smart choices, avoid temptations and stick to commitments.
(Note: I’m not a researcher so please don’t get yourself in a tizzy about how I didn’t choose the right variables, didn’t properly set up my controls, etc., etc. I did this simply to test my own preconceptions about patience and self-control. Plus, this video is funny. I mean really, I giggle each time I watch it.)
Watch the video below to see our experiment:
Here are my takeaways from this little experiment and what I think we can all learn as we’re pushing to achieve long-term goals.
Keep the larger goal in front of you.
In the video, you notice that I actually chose to leave both marshmallows on the table. Leaving it in their presence reminded them of what they were waiting for. At 2:36, you can hear Andrew say, “Oh, I really want one right now…” and he puts his head down on the table. Having BOTH marshmallows in front of him was the reminder that he could forgo eating the one in order to get two.
This is why I recommend a vision board. Get your goal in front of you so when you have a crappy day, you are visually reminded of the goal. It reminds you WHY you should choose delayed gratification, especially when you’re having a tough day and taking a shortcut starts to tempt you.
For me, it looks like this: I call someone I believe would be perfect for my business and they don’t see it or flat out reject what I say. People fail to show up to a meeting or a phone appointment. I get absolutely zero response on a blog post or some other work that I believe to be brilliant. I feel the fear of doing what I know I should do, so I make excuses or allow myself to be distracted by things that won’t bring me success. I start saying the following things to myself: “It would be easier to just quit.” “I wish I could just have a boss to tell me what to do next.” “I’m tired of people judging me for choosing this business.” “I’d rather watch TV than attend that event, watch that webinar, make that phone call, etc., etc.”
On days like this, I look to my vision board and I remind myself that this is just one moment. One day. The long-term goal is still there and is still worthy of pursuit. Basically, having the goal right there reminds me that this is MY goal. I have to take responsibility for it and my choices alone will dictate the outcome.
Who you surround yourself with DOES matter.
I am fully convinced that had little Carter been alone at that table, he would have snarfed up both marshmallows the second I exited the room. Throughout the video, Andrew reminded him what he’d miss out on if he ate the first one. THIS is the type of support we need around us. Someone to lovingly remind us that we’re about to do something that will derail the longer term plan. Someone to tell you the truth. Someone to encourage you. Big goals require big support.
Who is on your team? Who is your tribe? FIND THEM. You may need them at times when you’re feeling weak, uncertain or want to quit.
Get busy and you’ll forget what you’re missing out on.
I love the point in the video where the boys simply distract each other by being silly. In my business, I will find myself daydreaming about my vision, about that glorious day in the future when it all seems easy, business is great and I’m living my purpose. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m always living my purpose and when I take inspired action, my goals will come to fruition. When we simply ‘get busy’, we can often forget that we’re sacrificing anything in the short-term because inspired action feels good. And good feelings create flow. Getting busy is one of the easiest ways to thwart the negative thoughts that are standing between you and your goal.
Ensure you’re working in an environment where you trust people to do what they say they’ll do.
This idea is based on new research around the marshmallow experiment. A researcher named Celeste Kidd, a cognitive science graduate student at the University of Rochester, is the author of this new body of work. She suggests the way the kids respond is more about whether they inherently trust not just the adult that’s giving the directions, but adults in general. For example, children from backgrounds of neglect or abuse would most certainly eat the marshmallow and it ties little to their self-control.
This certainly makes sense to me and is a thought to be considered. In my network marketing business, I work for a company that I truly believe in. I believe that if I do what they show me to do, take action every day, that I’ll see the results I want to see. The environment is one that I trust.
It’s why more and more people are leaving typical jobs to pursue their own thing. There seems at times, to be little trust in management and the standard corporate structure. Companies can no longer promise that if you work 40 years at the same place, you’ll be rewarded. Those days are past.
So as you’re working toward your big goal and you feel like you’re making short-term sacrifices for long-term gains, be sure you’re working in an environment that warrants your patience.
I may always struggle a bit with patience, but while I think ‘ good things come to those who wait’, I more emphatically believe good things come to those who get clear on what they want, write a vision to get it and surround themselves with people who support those dreams. Whether it’s a business pursuit, becoming a healthier person or just all-around personal development, these goals/visions are a journey. And if you’re a mom, and you feel like you could use some guidance with this, check out Project You: Finding Yourself in the Chaos of Motherhood. It’s designed to help you get after those dreams by following a plan.
What about you? What are areas of your life where you’re not as patient as you need to be or struggle with a lack of self-control? As always, please tell me your thoughts by sharing in the comments section or on Facebook! I’ll be ‘patiently’ waiting to hear from you…