How many times have we hit the snooze button on the morning alarm, for just ‘five more minutes’ of sleepy comfort?
After a few times, those accumulated ‘five minutes’ add up to a significant amount of time lost that can mean all the difference between having a good start to the day and being exhausted from rushing around at the last minute.
Making the decision to change
What is it that makes short-term gains so tempting, even when we recognise that the benefits are fleeting?
While it feels good to have five or ten extra minutes in bed, if it means that we miss out on our morning coffee or breakfast, we could find ourselves suffering the negative consequences of our decision throughout the day.
Similarly, when it comes to making lifestyle changes such as deciding to exercise regularly, many people eagerly commit to the idea as it pops into their head.
However, when the time comes to put their idea into practice, those poor new sports shoes are often used just a few times before finding a permanent home at the back of the cupboard.
Making decisions for our long-term benefit is tough, particularly with all the immediate temptations and distractions that offer us a way to enjoy ourselves now and with minimal effort.
Who wants to drag themselves out of a comfortable bed to go to the gym on a Saturday morning after a long week at work?
It’s such a hassle and besides, we’ve earned some rest time. We can always go to the gym tomorrow (or next week…)
Making things happen
Part of the challenge lies within the battle between our narrative self and our experiencing self. Our narrative self-paints a picture of what could be: “Exercise regularly and you’ll grow stronger and fitter, not to mention you’ll be happier and have more energy!”
Meanwhile, our experiencing self focuses on our immediate satisfaction: “You said you were going to exercise, and that’s a great goal you should totally commit to… but now? When you’re so comfortable? When there are more important things to do? You can exercise any time you want – why rush?”
When we make decisions, whether they relate to our personal or professional life, we should ask ourselves: “What will this mean for me in the long run?”
Choosing chicken over fish isn’t going to make a difference, but if we’re presented with a choice that clearly has long-term consequences, that’s when we need to be more considerate and think through the pros and cons of each option.
Thinking about long-term consequences
In a fascinating study at the University of California, researchers Adrianna Jenkins and Ming Hsu found that we make better decisions when we think about the long-term consequences compared to when we try to use our willpower to overcome impulsive behaviours.
In their study, the researchers offered participants a choice between taking a certain amount of money within 24 hours and waiting one month to receive a larger amount. This choice was presented as a this-or-that option to some of the participants.
At the same time, a second group were presented with the choice in a manner that highlighted the chain of events that would follow for each: take a small amount now but receive nothing in a month’s time; or, hold out for a month and receive a bigger sum of money.
As found in the study, those in the second group who received the nuanced message were more inclined to hold off for the extra reward.
Brain scans from a later experiment found that areas of the brain associated with willpower were more active when we’re presented with an either-or choice.
On the other hand, when we’re encouraged to consider a chain of events resulting from the choices we make, brain activity increases in areas associated with our imagination.
Following the study, Jenkins shared an interesting insight from the findings:
“Willpower might enable people to override impatient impulses after they’re formed, whereas imagining future consequences might affect the formation of the impulses themselves.”
The study is intriguing for a number of reasons, not least of all with regard to the importance of how we go about making choices.
I can recall conversations with budding entrepreneurs who were surprised to hear me counter their argument that business is all about making money and becoming a success. “But surely that’s the whole point of starting a business – to make money?”
The whole point of starting a business, I would tell them, is to create value. This could be done by solving a particular problem or offering a high-quality service.
Maybe they have a fantastic product that can change the lives of many people – the whole point of any business is to enable those behind it to answer the questions: “Why am I doing this? What purpose am I serving?” If these can be sufficiently answered, everything else will follow.
By keeping the focus on the purpose of what we do – the vision of the long-term results – we invest ourselves deeply in working as hard as we can to transform that vision into a reality.
It keeps us in line with our mission and our values, and the meaning that’s derived from there is what drives us to delivering exactly what we set out to achieve.
Looking at the long-term and imagining the possibilities, we’re happy to sacrifice short-term comfort for long-term gain and to create a legacy.
Steve Jobs didn’t care so much about the money he made; he was instead obsessed with transforming an entire industry that would create life-changing experiences for people around the world.
He was a master visionary, and it was his ability to imagine what could be that allowed him to shape the future as he saw it.
This is the foundation of success. People might look up the net worth of Warren Buffett or Mark Zuckerberg, and those numbers might impress them briefly. However, the numbers are soon forgotten.
What truly leaves an impression on us is what they’ve achieved, what kind of legacy they’ve built, and how they’ve worked to make the world a better place.
People who are comfortable don’t have the motivation to move forward. People who focus solely on the short-term will lack the ability to move forward.
Progress belongs to the dreamers who can see what can come from their passion, perseverance, hard work and commitment and then do everything to make sure their dreams come alive.
We can all make a similar impression on the world; perhaps not as significant as the iconic dreamers but, then again, anything’s possible if we find our purpose and work hard creating value from it.
And that all begins by imagining what could be, thinking through what we need to do in order to achieve our dreams, and going out there and doing it.