I recently experienced two very different conversations with two very different friends. While one ended with me affectionately quipping, “welcome to the world of adulthood,” the other’s grand finale made me feel like a mother scolding her child. The irony? The subject matter of both conversations was exactly the same.
occurred between myself and a fellow musician who I’ve got quite a
number of years over. He’s been popular and successful in the scene for
some time now: winning awards, selling out shows and even being
allocated grant monies.
While all of this looks fab on paper, anyone
whose passion is artistic in nature knows that especially in today’s
economic times, it’s become increasingly unfeasible if not impossible to
make a sole living via this means. The fact that Lady Gaga, arguably
the current biggest thing in music (for better or for worse) has
declared bankruptcy after EVERY SINGLE ONE of her past four tours speaks
Although my friend has more than got the goods, he’s
come to the conclusion that he needs to develop a sound financial
strategy to better cover his day-to-day living expenses, which in turn
will allow him to continue to fuel his passion without burning out.
Accordingly, he’s decided to go back to school for retraining in an
unrelated, but stable field and is currently working two jobs.
conversation two erupted after I invited a girlfriend of mine to attend
a couple of trial yoga classes with me, being offered at a mere five
bucks a pop. Now I understand that given the job market is, particularly
in this city, less than optimal right now, many of us are scraping to
get by, but frankly considering my aforementioned friend still lives at
home rent-free and works full-time, I couldn’t comprehend how it was
possible she claimed to not even have $5 to spare to take part in an
activity in which she’d expressed interest on more than one occasion.
began to grill her – asking her to outline for me in detail exactly
what her expenses were on a monthly basis. Not surprisingly, because she
admitted to frequently shopping when she was either bored or in a bad
mood, she was spending exorbitant amounts of money unnecessarily and had
yet to put any substantial monies into savings (translation: she was
It’s not that friend number one was/is more analytical or intelligent than friend number two, nor was/is age (as in years) the distinguishing factor; something confirmed by the fact that friend number two is actually older than the both of us! Their
differed perspectives simply come down to sight, with my latter friend
suffering from a serious case of psychological myopia. This, of course, brings us to today’s topic of discourse:
goal setting (well life goal setting, in general) via the practise of
“delaying gratification” is a MAJOR aspect of developing psychological
maturity, and I’m not just saying this ‘cause my pops happens to be a
Defined by the Encyclopedia of Psychology as, “the ability to forgo an immediate pleasure or reward in order to gain a more substantial one later,” learning to delay gratification goes hand-in-hand with learning to enhance one’s self-control.
Psychologically-speaking, the problem for many of us stems from the
fact that society promotes self-motivation and personal responsibility
as desirable personality traits to possess, while at the same time
suffocating us with advertising campaigns promoting indulgence and
frivolousness, suggesting we can “have it all”. The fact is this: no,
you can’t. As I learned a long time ago and hope to impart onto you,
anything that is worth fighting for will NOT come without its challenges
and small sacrifices are NECESSARY in order to achieve large payoffs.
Developing self-control is only possible once one is able to identify the emotions and motivations driving his/her behaviour(s).
Notice once again how it always comes back to good old introspection!
It is true that some people are genetically hardwired with poorer
impulse control, however even they can learn how to delay gratification
with some practise. “Suppression” (ie: putting the steps toward
accomplishing one’s goals out of mind) is actually useful here. For
instance, if one sets up an automatic monthly transfer of a set amount
of funds between their chequing and savings accounts, they are more
likely to save that money than if they were physically making the
After this, it’s all a matter of goal
setting and “global processing” (ie: focusing on the big picture – your
ENTIRE life). Importantly, goals that are defined using measurable and
concrete terms (ie: I want to have X amount of dollars in savings by the
time I reach X age) ensure a higher likelihood of staying on target.
Do NOT, I repeat do NOT, change your spending habits until you reach
your goals, even if in the meantime you’ve got yourself a snazzy
promotion; this is a major pitfall too many fall into. Goals most
certainly change throughout your life, but the road to them, one that is
slow and steady, should not.
While it’s totally fine and
common to give yourself small rewards along the way for sticking to the
program, you don’t want to let these rewards get out of hand thereby
undermining the bigger objectives you’re working toward. Great
ways to keep yourself in check include: practising meditation and
internal coaching (ie: self-talk) as well as drawing “mental
equivalences” each time you feel compelled to impulse buy (ie: one of
this item is equivalent to X of this item, which would I rather have?).
Monitoring your progress, too, is in it of itself motivating.
students of psychological maturity, we essentially need to learn to turn
OFF our natural (and socially programmed) tendency toward “temporal
discounting” and turn ON the process of “metacognition”. In other words,
as psychologist Walter Mischel puts it, we need to master the skill of
“strategically allocating our attention.”
Financial experts report that anymore you need at least a million bucks (yes, you read correctly) in the bank by the time you’re 60 to ensure a comfortable (NOT luxurious or extravagant) retirement. That ain’t just gonna happen over night and I wouldn’t hedge my bets on the lottery!
Aside from helping you learn to save, Mischel’s 1970s “marshmallow” experiment on the subject at hand revealed a notable correlation between higher levels of self-control and better life outcomes
(ie: higher marks in school and higher paying jobs) as well as lower
incidence of risk-taking behaviour and the development of personal vices
such as: drug addiction and overeating. In sum, learn to delay gratification – it’s not just money in the bank!