Many wise leaders over the centuries have believed that impatience, or the impulsive desire for immediate gratification, has cost many people their financial fortunes, degrees of fulfillment and even their lives, while the virtues of reason, patience and long-term planning and vision have helped them flourish and rewarded them with many life-extending dividends.
But, you may ask, what underlies or determines this difference between the short- and long-term thinkers or possibly between the immediately gratifying gamblers and the long-term investors? This answer demands a deeper look at the basics of human behavior and particularly, the motivations, inspirations or drives behind all human thought and action.
According to the Stanford University marshmallow experiment conducted forty years ago referring to a series of studies on deferred gratification led by psychologist Walter Mischel, children who were offered a choice between one small reward (a marshmallow, cookie, or pretzel) provided immediately, or two small rewards if they waited until the experimenter returned about 15 minutes later, showed that those with deferred gratification or patience fared better. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that the children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have greater life outcomes, as measured by a series and variety of life measures. These studies offer insights into human behavior and demonstrate the difference between the two life strategies – short-term gratification or long-term patience – and their life outcomes.
Just as for the children above, adults also tend to live their lives by different time horizons, or degrees of patience. This is primarily due to the unique set of values or priorities they hold and the actions that they feel are most to least important in their lives. These unique sets of values ultimately determine each of their short- or long-term strategies and destinies. Every decision an adult makes is determined by what they feel will give them the greatest advantage over disadvantage and greatest reward over risk at any moment in time. Therefore, each of their hierarchy of values will also determine their general, temporal and financial destinies.
Whenever wise and mature adults set goals and objectives that are congruent with their highest priorities or values, they increase the probability of taking meaningful actions and achieving their chief aims. They also expand their space and time horizons (patience) and add to their certainty, self-worth and ultimately, net worth. Whenever they set intentions that are in alignment with their highest values, they stimulate their pre-frontal cortex, or executive center, which directs their higher reasoning, fosters their patience and inspires them to live gratefully with more meaningful and fulfilling long-term missions and visions.
Long-Term, Patient, Visionary Leaders
Expanded Space And Time Horizons
Governs And Initiates Action
True And Authentic Goals That Are Congruent With Their Highest Values
Most Important Higher Values
Hierarchy Of Values
Less Important Lower Values
False And Inauthentic Goals That Are Incongruent With Their Highest Values
Amygdala Runs And Initiates Reaction
Contracted Space And Time Horizons
Immediately Gratifying, Impatient Followers
Passionately Addicted Gamblers
Whenever unwise, immature adults set goals and objectives that are not aligned with their highest values, but are aligned with their lower values due to subordinating to social ideals or the influential values of outer authorities, they decrease their probability of achieving their assumed aims, and they shrink their time and space horizons and decrease their certainty, self-worth and net worth. Their unfulfilling results lead them to desire immediate gratification in order to compensate for their unfulfilled highest values. Their impulsive behavior is a result of them not feeling they can fulfill what is most important to their lives, and this addictive behavior costs them their long-term meaning and fulfillment and blinds them to their true and lasting rewards of patience. Setting goals that are aligned to lower values results in the amygdala portion of the brain becoming activated, which leads to impatient lifestyles and a life filled with the sufferings of the animal passions and the desires for quick fixes, purchases of depreciating consumables, magic bullets and get rich schemes as well as other immediate gratifications in the remaining areas of their lives.
When wise adults live according to their highest values, they increase their probability of achievement and expand their patience through setting ever-greater goals over ever-greater periods. This is where immortal legacies and legends are born, once their goals expand to exceed their own lifespans.
Although marshmallows, cookies or pretzels are not the greatest rewards for the average adult’s life, the principle difference between immediate and long-term gratification still applies. This distinction may show up in the difference in strategies of acquiring wealth, from day traders and property flippers to patient dollar-cost-averaging stock or land holders. Even the tax advantages differ between the two strategies and favor the patient, long-term capital gains approach.
So the message is clear: when we live congruently with our highest values, we fare well and more masterfully in life, and when we live incongruently with our highest values, we fare ill and live more impulsively in life. The former expands us into leaders that become wealthy; the latter shrinks us into followers that become poor and leads many of the latter to the shrink.
Those seeking quick fixes, quick highs, quick rushes, quick stimuli, quick feel goods, quick relationships and quick “somethings” for “nothings,” more often pay the price for their impulsive addictions and immediate gratifications. Greatness takes time. Overnight success often takes 25 years. So determine what you truly value or what is truly most important in your life. Prioritize your daily actions accordingly. Live congruently with what is truly most meaningful. Delegate what is not inspiring to you to eligible others so you can get on with awakening yourself to who you authentically are. In doing so, you will expand your time horizons and make a greater difference to a greater number of people, while leaving your immortal legacy for the world. Your fortune and possible fame is ever-awaiting the true you.
Dr. John Demartini is the founder of the Demartini Institute and a human behavioral specialist, educator and author. DrDemartini.com.