Choosing Long-Term Success over Immediate Gratification

 

As I look around the world, there are two problems that stick out to me, both in my life, and in the lives of most people in America:

1.  Money problems

2.  Eating problems

I read an article the other day about how people often convince themselves that they are eating “healthy” food when they buy organic chips and the like, and it got me thinking.

We’ve been on our getting out of debt journey for nearly a year now.  Along with this “journey” is our never ending journey to make healthy food choices.  You see, we are HUGE foodies in this family.   All of my growing up years, family gatherings were centered around great eats.  We love to cook, and even more than that, we love to eat.  As you can imagine, this creates some problems.  My extended family has their fair share of weight problems, along with a heavy dose of Type 2 Diabetes, cancer and heart disease.  Although there is a genetic factor to these diseases, many, many studies have proven that there is also a large diet connection as well.  After watching so many family members suffer from painful, and often deadly health problems that are largely the result of an unhealthy lifestyle, I’ve made the commitment to do better, and to teach our kids the same.

And, it’s the same in my family (whom I absolutely adore, lest you get the wrong idea 🙂 ) when it comes to money.  Debt and an anorexic savings abound, as does the belief that all of their money problems just “happen” to them and are out of their control.

This is largely what happened with our finances too.  We fell for the belief that our money issues were out of our control.

Finally, sick and tired of watching so many family members succumb to financial pressure and large amounts of debt, we decided that we were going to “change our family tree”, so to speak, and become financially healthy.  Not that we don’t still struggle in both areas – we do.  But we are learning more every day about discipline and finding a balance in these areas.  When I “woke up one day” this year to find myself 20 30 pounds overweight, after 4.5 years of maintaining my goal weight, for instance, I had to work again at making healthy food choices over those immediate cravings of chips and chocolate, in order to dump the extra poundage.

Is making the hard choices easy?  Heck no!!  I hate it often.  It’s hard.  It’s frustrating.  But after I’ve made it through the tempting situation with success, I’m always SO relieved, and that is MUCH better than spending several hours beating yourself up because you just downed three Snickers bars.

Money is the same way for us.  The kids want things.  I want things.  I love to go out to eat.  I’d love to splurge on fancier foods.  I’d love to take the kids on a splurge shopping spree or to a hotel with a waterpark for the weekend.  But I have to keep in mind why we’re doing what we’re doing.  Here’s why we are choosing, on a consistent basis, long-term success over instant gratification:

In Money

1.  We don’t want our kids to have to support us.

2.  We want to be able to help them out when they reach adulthood.

3.  We want to model and teach them good money habits.  The last thing we want is to see our kids struggle financially like we have for so many years.

In Food

1.  We want our family to enjoy good health.

2.  We want to teach them to minimize the risk of disease.

3.  We don’t want them to fall into the trap of spending so much money on junk food.

This is not an anti-my-family rant, by any means.  But I truly believe that in order to change a behavior, you must know – at least in part – WHY you behave the way you do.  Thus, as we’ve worked this year to change our  money habits and take the steps toward financial freedom, I’ve also worked to analyze my past, my family history, etc., in an attempt to discover the “whys” about our spending, and to change them.

This path of analyzing behaviors, role models and attitudes has lead me to discover that, in general, most of the money (and weight) problems boil down to one thing:

Choosing instant gratification over long-term success.

When we don’t stop and think about the ramifications of our choices before we make them, we’re bound to choose instant gratification first.  Think about it:

You’ve had a long day of work, and you’re starving and stressed out:  in the fridge are the makings for a salad, on the counter is a bag of chips.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry, I want it NOW.  The chips, at this point, have a large likelihood of winning the battle here.

Same goes for spending.  You’re out, you see a cute pair of boots, or the latest Smartphone, or whatever your spending candy is, and the first thought, by and large, is “I want that”.

But at this point, you have a choice.  You can focus on the (likely temporary) joy and/or convenience this will bring to your life, or you can think long-term.  How do you think long-term?  You get into the habit of asking yourself a couple of questions about your decision.  Questions like:

1. How much will this cost me in hours of work?  Or, how many hours, weeks or years will this purchase delay my early retirement/financial freedom by?  Think long-term.  Ask yourself how this purchase will impact your wish to bring your family to Hawaii next year, or whatever your longer term goal is.  Once you’ve seriously considered those questions, you can make an informed purchasing decision.

The same goes for food choices.  Yes, that fudge looks awfully good right now, and you know it will taste SO yummy.  But you also have to be concerned about tomorrow.  How are those extra 500 calories going to feel when you try and put on your favorite jeans tomorrow, or when you have to put on that swimsuit for your winter vacation in February?  Again, the fudge itself isn’t necessarily bad, but when you couple it with the value meal you had at Mickey D’s and the donut you had for breakfast, you have a losing combination on your hand that has the potential to have you beating yourself up by tomorrow and creating even more of a love/hate relationship with food and decision-making?  Is it worth it?  Only you can decide, just make sure you’re thinking your choices through before you make them.

2.  Is this ________ more important to me than __________  ?  Is that new gadget more important to you than being able to spend time with your family, knowing you’ll have to work X extra hours as you work to pay it off?  Is the fudge more important to you than your self-esteem and your confidence?  I don’t know about you, but being someone who struggles on and off with weight and food choices, I’m learning that it’s just not worth it anymore to me.  I’d rather say “no” to that extra cookie and not be obsessing with my weight for the next week as I work off the junk food binge from Saturday night.  I’d rather just have a handful of Fritos and be done with it, knowing that I’ll wake up in the morning not chastising myself for the bloated, icky feeling I have from downing the whole darn bag.

Don’t get me wrong: making the right choices is, at least not for me, about willpower, because on most days I have very little.

It’s just that I don’t want to do battle with my conscience anymore.

So, when you’re face with those money-spending, food-eating time-spending decisions, don’t leap until you’ve looked.

Ponder seriously the long-term effects of your decisions, and make your choice with an informed and honest mind.  Whatever your decision, you’ll sleep better knowing you didn’t give in to instant gratification, and that you made a well-informed choice.

Where do you struggle with the desire to give in to instant gratification, and how do you work to make the right choice for you?

 

40 comments

  1. Liz says:

    Great read Laurie. I am totally guilty of needing instant gratification sometimes. Especially when I get home from work and am starving… potatoe chips it is! I did come up with one easiy solution to the problem – though I don’t always do this. Simply pack an extra healthy snack for work. That way when I get home I am not so starving and can try to hold off until I prepare an actual dinner. What a thought, right?

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, I think we all are, Liz. And you’re right – there’s usually a simple solution to avoid those impulse food or spending choices, but grabbing the junk is so much easier. 🙂

  2. I heard a message this past week by Andy Stanley where he asked this question, “What do you do when your body wants what your heart knows is wrong?” I think this speaks to the instant gratification challenges we face everyday. We know we shouldn’t do that particular thing but our body has such an overwhelming desire to have its needs met. It takes an incredible amount of discipline and strong faith in what we believe to fight against it.

  3. Good post Laurie and can relate quite a bit to it. Our schedule has meant it’s much easier for me to give in to that instant gratification thinking with my eating habits. I think so much of it comes down to taking the time to think through what is going to be better in the long run for me as opposed to what is going to take care of me right now. The maddening thing is that I “know” that, I just need to live it out. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, I SO get that, John. It IS difficult to live it out. I am finding though, that the more I make the right choices, the easier it becomes in the future.

  4. Money buys you time with your family. So true Laurie that instant gratification robs you of that. I’ve been having bad health lately so I’m trying to cut out the fast food, my laziness to cook and eat healthy is the root of this. To a healthier 2014!

  5. I’ve often equated dieting and saving money to be closely related. We often know exactly what we need to do – eat healthy, exercise more, watch our portions or spend less, save more but we still don’t do things. Instant gratification is a big reason why and thinking we can always start tomorrow, except we use that excuse tomorrow. 🙂 It does take enormous willpower and commitment to change habits. I’m glad you are choosing long-term success and the benefits are already starting to show-up in your lives! I want to wish you and your family a very Merry and Blessed Christmas, Laurie!

    • Laurie says:

      Thank you so much, Shannon. Yes, the right choice is an every day battle, one that we have to struggle with every day, but I know it will be the best choice in the end. Merry Christmas to you too, my friend!

  6. It is amazing how related money and food are. It takes much more planning to eat healthy and save. Junk food is really cheap sometimes too, so it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking it’s OK. Good for you for figuring out why you have had trouble and working to do better. Your kids will appreciate that long down the line.

  7. Oh yes, instant gratification is something that most people want. Those who can resist those urges better will have an easier time digging out of debt and improving their financial stature. Just have to cultivate patience in your life and not sacrifice the present for the future…the future you will be thankful for that.

  8. Stacey says:

    Yes, I want to feel better right now and I know that brownie will help me, even if it’s only for this afternoon. I agree it’s tough to focus on long term goals over instant gratification. But I think it’s more than a willpower issue. Human beings have legitimate needs and many of us have learned unhealthy ways to meet those needs, or to be ashamed of having needs, and then we have to do something to deal with that shame. The needs themselves are not wrong and they don’t have to be overcome or eliminated. I try to think of it as finding something constructive or productive to do with my need management instead of going to my automatic destructive habits of eating, spending, etc. So, if I have a bad day, I have more choices for dealing with that then Haagen Dazs or buying fabric online.

    Do you have any strategies for this?

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, Stacey, yes, I am quite versed in dealing with this. It’s definitely different for everyone, but what has worked for me, first and foremost, is reminding myself that it is okay to have those needs, and that I am not going to allow guilt or shame to make me feel that it’s NOT okay to have needs, or to fulfill them. But I think what’s worked the most is figuring out what the best way to deal with those needs is. For instance, if I need a new pair of tennis shoes, I am going to shop and find the best deal, but I refuse to feel guilty about needing/wanting/buying new tennis shoes. When I’ve had a bad day, I try and reach out to a friend who I know will lift me up, or in my case, turn to prayer, instead of reaching for the Haagen Dazs. That doesn’t always work, and when I break and go for the ice cream instead, I go back to forgiveness (of myself) and remind myself that I am beautiful and wonderful in God’s sight, faults and all. Does that help? SO, so much of this battle is emotional, and so I try and work on helping my self esteem with positive self-talk (as corny as that sounds), and give myself needs-based rewards (such as that new pair of needed tennis shoes or coffee out with an uplifting friend) instead of turning to stuff that I know will make me feel guilty later. I hope that helps. Stacey, feel free to email anytime (see the “contact” page for email address) if you have any questions at all regarding this, and check out my Christmas Day post – it might have some good info in it for you as well. Thank you so much for reading, and for sharing your very real questions in the comments. There are SO many dealing with these same issues as you and I are.

  9. My wife and I use portion control when we are enjoying those tempting goodies. We usually get the small snack bags (especially for the Fritos frenzy) and this really helps us to limit our portions (especially when we’re distracted watching a good movie).

    • Laurie says:

      Oh my goodness: the movie analogy is perfect. It is so easy to get lost in a bag of chips when watching a movie, isn’t it? Great tip on getting the smaller bags. Thanks, Richie!

  10. Another great article Laurie. I think focusing on the why can’t help those moments you get cravings. I sometimes think “f*ck it” and just want to chow down on a bag of chips or something…but one choice leads to another choice and so on. If I think of the overall pic of me wanting good health and to live a long time and to feel good, I’m more apt to put down the bag of chips (actually I rarely buy it so I don’t have to make the choice). Same with money too, although I think I struggle more with this than diet and exercise. But all those little purchases add up and can ruin my overarching goal of financial independence. I’d LOVE to eat out more too. But I’m willing to sacrifice that.

  11. I chose long term success every time I pack up my bag and head to the gym. Every. Single. Day. It would be easy to just sit on the couch. It would be easy to sleep in. But I know what it will take to achieve my fitness goals, and I’m 100% committed to making it happen!

    • Laurie says:

      Travis, this is what I’m talking about. Every day we have a choice to work toward our goals, or to put them off for another day. It’s time to decide what we really want in life, and then to go for it!

  12. Honestly, with work/careers/small biz I struggle with wanting instant gratification. So far I’ve done well at being patient and working hard day-after-day, but my generation has been raised to worship instant gratification. We all want beautiful homes that are newly renovated, we want the great job, the brand new car, the fat bank account…but few stop and think about what needs to be sacrificed to get there.

    • Laurie says:

      “Few stop and think about what needs to be sacrificed to get there”. LOVE that, DC!! You’ve said it perfectly. So many are focused on that immediate high that they’re not really sitting down to figure out what it truly costs them to get it! Great comment!

  13. I love reading about the psychology of our financial decisions, Laurie. Just like everyone else, I battle with the part of my brain that only thinks about short term rewards and consequences. Chips are a big one as far as diet goes, and oddly, food is one of my impulse purchases, too. I’m generally pretty good at keeping spending in check, but at the grocery store I’ll buy a lot of anything that seems like a good deal…and end up lining the pantry. It’s like I’m investing in dry goods and hoping they’ll go up in value. Months later, as the canned salmon waits for me in the back of the cupboard, I realize that future me didn’t really want that stuff. Present me just wanted to score a deal.

    • Laurie says:

      OH my gosh, DB40, what a great point! It’s so important, IMHO, to figure out WHY we do the things we do, so that we can change the things we want to change. The “head” battle is probably my most important thing to conquer in 2014.

  14. Great article! I am huge foodie myself and have been struggling with weight problems for a few years now and it was this year when I finally made a few steps in the right direction (although many are still left to be made). I am 100% confident and motivated to do a lot better in 2014 and I must make it happen. Now I have to start making an example for my son – he’s just 6 months old, but we have to start early 🙂

    I do suffer from stress eating unfortunately and when I’m at my worst, I simply go out and buy crappy stuff to eat. I go out because one of the strategies that worked best for me in order to avoid unhealthy snacks was not having them in my house. Seeing that bag of chips on the counter instantly makes me crave for some. If it’s in a supermarket, I’m generally too lazy to go get it.

    • Laurie says:

      We have those same struggles, C. I’m in a mode right now where I’ve been pretty good at saying “no” throughout the holiday season, but it’ll be interesting to see what the next week brings. Good for you, too, for starting early with your son. That’s where we’re at here, and it’s really fun to hear them say “I’ve had a lot of sugar this week; I think I’ll pass on that cookie.”. Doesn’t happen real often, but it does happen. 🙂

  15. I work in health care and lifestyle choices are a big part of long term health. I have to make drastic changes because I have to stay healthy to continue to work and be able to remain independent and lower my care costs as a senior.

    Smokers look older because their faces are wrinklier and if the smoking is damaging the skin then it must be wrecking havoc on the inside too. Overweight people struggle with constant joint pain and if you aren’t a healthy person you have to start paying for drugs for cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

    Eating well and taking care of yourself is less expensive in the long run.

    • Laurie says:

      Jane, thanks for sharing your insiders opinion. I always think too, not just about the high costs of those meds, but what the side effects are from them. Those thoughts make a healthy salad sound very, very tasty.

  16. I totally agree with you that instant gratification is a huge problem with both food and finances. The odd thing was, once we got our finances in order, we started eating a lot healthier because we could afford it, but also because as we got out of our mid 20s, we realized we weren’t invincible (I think a lot of younger folks might feel this way when it comes to diet and money). But, now that I know I’m going to have a baller retirement since my finances are in order, I want to be healthy in order to enjoy it! Thanks for posting this, it was great to read and nod yes to just about everything in it!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, Rick and I talk about the food issue all the time, i.e. not being able to eat like you could when you were young. Gone are the days of gorging ourselves at the state fair on cheese curds. Totally agree too, about being healthy to enjoy that kick-tail retirement. It’s worth sacrificing the junk food!

  17. I have the same immediate gratification issues — food and money — but I’m always working on both. It’s so easy to give into temptation (especially when it comes to chips!). However, I’m constantly trying to get better for future benefits. I don’t ever want to be overweight and I never want to go back to living paycheck to paycheck.

    • Laurie says:

      Those are the exact things I try and keep in mind, Erin, as I work on the food and money issues. It’s so hard to make the best choices, especially when you’re in that moment, but it always feels great after you’ve succeeded at picking what’s best.

  18. I struggle daily with instant gratification vs. long term success. Ultimately, you’re choosing between serving your present self or your future self. It’s so much easier to satisfy yourself now, but down the road those choices will be the ones you regret!

    • Laurie says:

      Me too, Lisa, and you’re so right about choosing between serving your present self or future self. It can be a hard choice, but I think there’s a balance to be found there.

  19. Egypt Graham says:

    This was such a great post! I’m currently working on getting my business off the ground as well as getting my personal life in order. My debt often feels like a noose around my neck and at any moment I’m just going to be hung. I’m so tired of living check to check, but I do struggle with the self discipline. I always feel I need to reward myself. But as I enter into a new year I know things have got to change. I’m praying for discipline everyday and I’m going to apply these questions to my thought process when I feel the need to spend. Thanks for sharing.

    • Laurie says:

      Egypt, the very best reward you can give yourself is a debt free, financially peaceful life, friend! Call on us anytime if you need encouragement, and stick with this PF blogging community, they are the best!

Comments are closed.