Humans can be so predictable. They tend to say the same phrases until they become part of a universal vocabulary. I'm sure most of you are guilty of this statement: “I wish I could go___ (fill in the blank) or do_____.” I wore this phrase out over the years until my predictable life was disrupted by tragedy in 2015 and decided to quit delaying gratification. In my new worldview life was to be experienced, not wished away.
When we keep wishing, we delay gratification and store away all those future experiences for another time in our life. Consciously we treat time like our favorite clock on the wall. We assume it will always keep ticking until inevitably the battery inside it quits working. We delude ourselves into thinking just by putting a new battery in the clock the March of Time will resume on our own schedule again and we can delay gratification a little while longer. The reality is we are never in complete control of time. Time and delaying gratification are co-conspirators in this game. And they are both really skilled at lulling us all to sleep.
So what is the basis for this tendency to postpone gratification until a later time in one’s life? Is there a benefit to doing so? According to the psychologist, Walter Mischel, the lead researcher of a study called the Marshmallow Test dating back to the 1960’s, people’s ability to delay gratification is measurable at an early age and can predict future life success. In this test, 4 year-old children were given a marshmallow and told they could eat it immediately or wait fifteen minutes until the researcher returned and eat two marshmallows-under the condition that they had to remain in the room until the researcher returned and then be rewarded with the marshmallows.
After tracking these children for more than ten years, Mischel established a behavioral connection between those kids who waited to consume the two marshmallows with future success in life. They grew up to be more intelligent, more socially responsible, more likely to resist temptation, better equipped to handle stress and frustration and more likely to be successful in other areas of life.
Personally I would have been the child who held out for two marshmallows instead of one. Credit goes to my parents who instilled in me, at an early age, some of those behavioral traits and values cited by Mischel in his study. I can confidently say that today I am an intelligent and socially responsible member of society who resists temptation but is working on handling stress and frustration better and is focused on being more successful in my career goals and the decisions that can advance those goals.
In 2015, after I mentally woke up from a traumatic life event (refer to my article on “How To Reclaim Your Life After Losing A Spouse”) I realized I needed to stop postponing gratification and just do the things I had always wanted to do before time stole those opportunities from me. Here is a list of 4 activities for you to try before you wish your life away (in the event of full disclosure some of my adventures took place both pre-tragedy and post-tragedy) in no particular order of importance:
1. Go see as many of your favorite bands as possible.
In 2015, I saw Jack White, attended the 3-day Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama and day 3 of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, the Rolling Stones, Phish and the Avett Brothers. Live music is a magical experience that can rejuvenate even the most jaded person on the planet. Pick a band that takes a studio recording and breathes new life into it in a live setting. Listen closely to the lyrics. The next day, if you're hopping around like a rabbit on 4 hours sleep and humming a favorite tune, the music did what it’s supposed to do.
2. Get out of your home state and go on a vacation.
My next suggestion is to go on a vacation away from your home state, preferably to a place where you have always wanted to go. Pick your favorite city and spend a maximum of 5 days only. In that way you get a little taste of the city while whetting your appetite for more on your second trip. While in the city, give equal time to exploring the history, the food and the cultural offerings. Pace yourself and don't over schedule because you don't want the experience to feel like work. Approach your adventure with the eyes of a child with not a care in the world.
3. Do something totally new which makes your heart race, your palms sweat and has some risk attached to it.
My suggestion is to go parasailing over the a large body of water and quickly come to grips with your mortality( I tried parasailing over the southern coast of Alabama and was equally terrified and thrilled). To make it more interesting, find a tour guide with a twisted sense of humor who threatens to cut the cord when you are 500 feet up in the air. A truly maniacal person on a weekend pass from the psych ward! After the terror subsides of your near-death experience and you gain control over your heart rate, just survey the horizon for miles on end. You will come away with the realization that you are just a tiny, insignificant dot in this mysterious universe.
4. Find a secret place within a couple hours driving distance of your home where you go to escape and recharge for the day.
Make sure it has something unique to offer which your hometown or nearby big city doesn't have. I'm in the middle Tennessee area and I head to Chattanooga for the hiking trails. I commune with nature out on the tree-canopied trails that slither around steep mountain ridges. I take as many pictures as I want between breaks out on the trail. By the end of a hike my mission is accomplished where the negative mental detritus composed of all the uncertainties and doubts that normally go along with decision-making have melted away.
The prolific author, Oscar Wilde, once said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” My advice is don't exist and certainly don't delay gratification. Don't wish you could do something-just do it.
Some know Bob Sherry as an aspiring entrepreneur who finally escaped from cubicle life to pursue his calling. Others know him as a huge fan of the Avett Brothers, craft beer, and the beach. He’s definitely a blessed human being and doesn’t take life for granted anymore.
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