Dear Business Owner,
The last time we talked, I know I was pretty hard on you, telling you the 7 Reasons You Won’t Ever Be Successful.
But I want to make it up to you. And I think I can.
Let’s leave the past behind us. No hard feelings, okay? Let’s focus on the future. On what you can do to be successful.
Because guess what? Research has shown that there is one thing — one trait — that’s more likely to predict future success than any other. And I’m not just talking about business; this trait will result in more success in all aspects of life.
This one trait (which, granted, is much easier said than done) is what will set you apart in every area of your life. Time and time again, through various scientific studies, this one trait has been shown to lead to success, wealth, happiness, better marriages and overall better lives.
It’s a trait that underlies everything we do, that can be used to achieve success in your business, relationships and life in general.
So, do you want to know what it is?
Hang on a second, because I want to backtrack a bit and tell you about a little experiment carried out in the 60’s and 70’s that illustrates this trait perfectly.
In case you’ve never heard of it, it was known as the Stanford marshmallow experiment. In this series of studies, children were offered a choice: receive 1 small cookie or marshmallow now, or wait 15 minutes and receive 2.
Well, you know kids! As you can probably imagine, that was a pretty tall order for many of them. But some kids actually managed to wait the full 15 minutes and receive the bigger treat. They could somehow forfeit immediate reward for the promise of a bigger reward in the future.
And this trait — the one that allowed some of these kids to wait for their reward — is the very trait that will help to determine whether you are successful in life. This trait is delayed gratification.
But how does the fact that some little kids were able to wait for their reward have anything to do with success in life?
Well, the researchers who conducted these experiments did a very interesting thing: They continued to follow these kids into adulthood, to see if there was any correlation between the early ability to delay gratification and outcomes later in life.
And guess what they found? Those children who were able to suppress their desire for instant rewards tended to have better outcomes later in life: in terms of SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index, and the ability to cope with frustration and stress in adolescence.
I recently attended a speaking event where I had the pleasure of hearing Michio Kaku, a popular theoretical physicist. I was struck by his emphasis on delayed gratification, and its significance for achieving success in work and in life. In fact, he ever referred to it as the “hallmark of human intelligence” and the “pinnacle of human consciousness”.
According to Walter Mischel, lead researcher of the marshmallow experiments, it’s imperative for people who want to be successful to “voluntarily postpone immediate gratification and persist in goal-directed behavior for the sake of later outcomes”.
So, what does this mean for us exactly? In what ways can we delay gratification and persist in goal-directed behaviors?
In the last letter I wrote to you, I mentioned that one reason you aren’t succeeding is that you can’t imagine payoff years from now for work you do today.
I know it’s tough, but one thing that every successful entrepreneur knows is that you need to slog away — sometimes for years — before achieving your goals (sometimes even simple ones).
If you always focus on small tasks with immediate rewards, or if you can’t see beyond your next paycheck, this is a good indication that you’re more concerned about short-term payoff than about achieving long-term goals.
A great question to ask is: What can I do right now to achieve the results I want in 5 years from now?
One area many of us could stand to delay gratification is with our personal and business finances. The age-old conundrum of ‘spend or save’ is difficult for most of us, starting in our childhood and often lasting well into adulthood.
Are we able to resist the urge to buy that new car or house that’s outside our means, in order to save up and buy it when we can actually afford it? Or on a smaller scale, are we able to forfeit going out for lunch with our co-workers and brown bagging it instead?
Can we deny ourselves a bit of pleasure now for more meaningful outcomes later on?
If this is all sounding good to you, and you want to take the next step toward living a life of delayed gratification, here are a few steps you can follow that may just help.
1. Define your goals.
Delaying gratification isn’t an end in and of itself. You don’t just do it to see how much you can deprive yourself.
· What do I hope to achieve in the long-term?
· Where do I want to be in 5, 10 and 15 years?
· What’s really important to me in life?
· What’s really important to me in my business?
2. Break your goals into long-term and short-term.
Short-term goals are important stepping-stones to achieving your long-term goals. Delaying gratification isn’t easy, and having practical, manageable goals that give you results along the way will keep you from giving up.
So, if your long-term goal is to save $100,000, give yourself short-term goals like saving $10,000 each year. This will make your goals feel much more realistic, and achieving positive results in the short term will give you the motivation to continue plugging away.
3. Define the steps you need to take to achieve your goals.
Knowing what your goals are likely won’t be enough to help you achieve them. You also have to have a clear understanding of the path that will get you where you want to go.
· What specific steps do I need to take right now to reach my goal?
· What specific steps do I need to take in the coming months or years to reach my goal?
And perhaps most importantly: What will life look like and how will I feel when I’ve finally achieved my goal?
Okay, maybe these 3 steps are a little simplistic, but hopefully you get my drift. Point being: It’s not enough to just say, “Okay I’m going to delay gratification! Bring it on!”
Having a plan will help you figure out why you’re working toward a future reward, and will give you the courage and determination to deny yourself short-term pleasures for long-term gains.
So, what do you think? Do you have the “success trait?” Is delayed gratification something you feel inspired to pursue? In what areas of your life or business could you benefit from it?