Self-control is great but you can have too much of a good thing. Maybe it’s time to lose control for a while…?
I think you should steal some biscuits.
Or do something naughty. Rock back on your chair. Put your feet up. Make that drink a double.
Have some fun. Indulge yourself. Do whatever it is that makes you happy.
Hang on. What happened to the old Jon? The firm hand on the boot-straps? The swift boot up the backside? The back in my day we ate rocks and were dragged to school by brumbies Jon?
That Jon’s still here. It’s just that it’s an election year, so I’m softening the message. Less ‘budget emergency’, more ‘new-age of entitlement’.
No, the reality is we need both.
And sometimes, hard work is the easy way out.
Lately I’ve been thinking about that study done back in the 70s. They took a bunch of kids under 5 and placed a choc-chip cookie in front of them. Then the instructor left the room, and said that they were allowed to eat the cookie if they wanted to.
But, he also said that if they held back and didn’t eat the cookie, then he would give them another one when he got back and they could eat them both.
Ooh, the temptation.
Most kids just ate the cookie. Kids are kids. But some didn’t. Some were able to keep their temptation in check.
The researcher called these kids ‘high delay children’. That is, they were able to delay gratification until the rewards were higher. They had self-control.
They then tracked those kids through their life. What they found was that the ones with greater self-control had fewer behavioural problems than the children who could only resist eating the cookie for a few minutes. They also did much better at school (…whatever that tells you. Schools are only good for assessing a limited number of skills – like algebra and dodgeball).
They then tracked them into their adult life. The high-delay children completed college at higher rates than the other children and then went on to earn higher incomes.
In contrast, the children who had the most trouble delaying gratification had higher rates of incarceration as adults and were more likely to struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.
Cookies, it seems, are a gateway drug.
So whether it was learnt or instinctive, having self-control at an early age sets you up for a prosperous future.
So the conclusion here is obvious right? Get some self-control.
If you want mastery of your life you need to master yourself. Tell yourself there’s no ice-cream tonight until you’ve read 5 of Jon’s blogs. Get the whip out.
But that’s not the full story. Because on the other side of ‘high-delay’ is ‘Deferred Happiness Syndrome.
This is also a common trap that a lot of people fall into. There’s a human tendency to defer happiness into the future. That is, defer doing the things that we enjoy (or enjoying the things we do) until some mythical point in the future where all of our problems are sorted, the fridge is full and everyone in our life has their shit together.
And it seems like it’s common enough for the head-shrinkers to think it’s universal. That is, everyone defers happiness to some degree. In fact, it’s the basic principal of saving. Don’t spend that money now so you can spend it on something awesome in the future.
Everyone does it.
But like most human qualities, there are healthy and unhealthy expressions. And the unhealthy version – deferred happiness syndrome – is when you never break out into that clear air where you can actually enjoy things. There’s always some problem that needs attending to. I’ll just earn another ten grand. I just need to paint the house. I just need to patch things up with the neighbours.
We don’t realise that the mind is a problem solving machine. And if we’re not feeding it problems, it goes out hunting for them.
And you’ll never fix the entire world (trust me, I’ve tried).
And so you’ll never let yourself enjoy anything.
This is a disaster. What’s the point of life if you’re not enjoying it? All of it. The journey and the destination.
(Here’s a tip: there’s no destination. It’s all journey.)
And it keeps us stuck in situations that don’t serve us much longer than it should. That job we hate. That relationship that’s not working. That sandwich bar that used to be awesome but now I just don’t know what happened to it.
We tough it out. Tell ourselves its just a little longer. A little more work and we’ll have our reward. A little more waiting and we’ll have our cookie.
(That’s right! The old Jon is back!)
We have to be proactive on both fronts. We have to be conscious with the choices we make – using our will power and self-control to set us up for our future. Save when we need to. Say no to another helping of ice-cream when we need to.
But we also need to be proactive in enjoying our life. We need to realise that no one is going to invite us into a good time. Nobody is going to say, “Pens down. It’s time to play outside.”
We need to invite ourselves. Take time to drop out of that problem-fixing mind, and into purely enjoying mind.
It’s all part of living a fully-engaged, fully-rich life.
So, go on, do something naughty this weekend. I dare you.
Any one else had to struggle with delayed happiness syndrome?
What did you do about it?