Thursday, July 29, 2010

Instant Reward vs. Long-Term Benefits

“Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.” ~ Author Unknown

Yesterday I had the best time talking to my daughter and two of her little friends, as they were telling me what they want to be when they grow up. Although Princess was definitely on top of the chart, the next two hot personas on the “want to be” list were mommy and model. That fun talk made me think about all the projects that we envision and give up because of obstacles and hardship. Are obstacles the main reason for abandoning our goals? Or could it be that instant reward often gets in the way of our allegiance to the original plan?

Humans are naturally creatures of comfort, and will choose the easy path that will cause the least amount of unease. Unless we are able to exercise a good dose of self-discipline, most of us are inclined to take the easy road and succumb to the temptation of instant reward.

Long-term benefits offer a reward which is often in our greater interest but might take months or years to solidify, while temporary satisfaction manifest immediately but is likely not what we need in the long run. When we give in to temptation we feel momentarily exhilarated, but quickly develop feelings of guilt as we feel that we have cheated ourselves. Instant reward can come in the form of indulgence or as a band-aid – regardless of which we act upon, we feel frustrated with ourselves and are more likely to give in on future occasions. There are ways to build a stronger resolve. One of them is to set small goals for ourselves - not too far down the road - and stick with them, independently from the fires that erupt around us. We can increase the amount of time between the original plan and the reward and continue telling ourselves that it is only a temporary state of discomfort.

Everything can be overcome one step at a time, if we accept that life itself is dynamic and therefore on a constant energy shift. If I was to wake up tomorrow morning and someone told me to quit smoking forever, I would find that thought overwhelming; if, instead, was told to quit for a day, or an hour at a time, I could summon the resolve to follow through for such a short time. We can’t keep our mind focused on forever but everyone can sacrifice for one day. Maybe, then, our long-term reward can become a much closer goal – one we can feel comfortable sticking with in preparation of bigger things to come.