How To Trade Good Now For Great Later

Walk down any grocery store aisle and you’re sure to see a bunch of health magazines promoting the latest “secrets of the fit”. They act like fit people are this private club who meet every second Tuesday to discuss their exclusive nutrition and workout tips. But in reality...we meet every day :)

I get it. Magazines and online ads want to create mystery behind the curtain/cover. If your big secret is “eat whole foods” for a leaner body, I don’t think you actually told anyone something they already didn’t know.

What I do think is a very legitimate “secret of the fit”, is this ability to delay gratification. It’s not simply a theory the fit rehearse at their secret meetings, but it’s more of a practice they do each day.

Delaying gratification means you’re able to trade what sounds really good right now, for what can be really great and amazing down the road.

Ice cream or wine every night sounds really good right now, but come July, feeling confident in that bathing suit is going to sound waaaaay better.

Understand that delaying gratification is not easy, and your biology and brain work against you when it comes to making long term decisions in the here and now.

It’s hard for us to pass up the easy and abundant calories in the moment (aka doughnuts) because our body evolved to wanting sustenance whenever it was available. It’s tough to get yourself out of bed for an early morning workout because our body wants to choose a lesser path of resistance and naturally conserve energy. What we often think “feels right” in the moment, is really wrong for our long-term health.

There’s a term in behavioral economics to describe humans' preference for a reward that arrives sooner rather than later, called “hyperbolic discounting.” The later reward is discounted in perceived value simply because it will take more time to receive it. The longer the time, the less value it appears to have.

But when you ask the “you of the future” if the good reward was worth it, there is often regret around not having the patience to wait for the greater outcome.

Making this wait for future rewards even harder is a world of instant gratification. If you want something you can order it online in less than five minutes. In most situations today, you’re never more than 5 minutes away from available food. Tell that to our early ancestors and their heads would explode.

Any kind of empty or anxious feeling you get can quickly be covered up by an array of instant choices in eating, drinking, shopping, or social media. You have no reason to be unhappy when happiness is simply a click away. (Internet, if you need a marketing plan, I got you.)

Real happiness comes from waiting for the things that really matter.

Real fitness comes from making the long-term driven choices over and over again.

So how do we practice delayed gratification each day?

I say “practiced” because I really believe whichever gratification you choose, it continues to create the want for more of that same gratification type in the future.

So if you’re constantly choosing instant gratification, it’s only begetting even more want for instant gratification. Enter addictions to our phones, caffeine, sugar, etc.

We can’t just think about choosing instant or delayed, we have to actively do it.

One way we can practice delayed gratification is by holding that future goal higher than any present reward.

In a way, all these posts I write for you are a form of instant gratification. I’ve wanted to write books for years now, and have a few in the works, but I keep coming back to putting out content each week. Yes it’s helpful to my readers to get information consistently, but it also is a way for me to get a more instant gratification and confirmation of my work.

I have to hold the value of writing a book and the people I could reach with it higher than the reward of a weekly post or social media likes. I’ve put a daily limit on my phone for social media to help remind me to prioritize this bigger picture. (I highly recommend everyone do this, even if your limit is 30,45, or 60min.)

Another way to practice delayed gratification is to wait 24 hours from wanting something to purchasing it. Create a buffer zone between want and get. I do this with my kids whenever possible and also do it with my own wants.

Everybody in the fitness world always talks about willpower and how hard it is to maintain. They talk about it like the gas in your car; use more, have less. Think about this… willpower is simply your ability to delay gratification.

Instead of looking at willpower like a resource that is running out, reframe it to a muscle of delayed gratification that you’re building up. You’re building up the right muscles to earn the greater rewards.

The best part about practicing delayed gratification is that the skill of it transfers over into different parts of your life. Teaching yourself to play the long game with your finances will help you play the long game in your nutrition.

Each day we get an opportunity to play the long game instead of choosing what we want in the moment. Get in the habit of trading good now for great later, and let the compounding of those good rewards bring you a greater reward than you could ever have imagined.

-Coach Tony