Discover more from Strong As An Ox
The Superpower For Almost All Things In Life
This is one skill that has the power to completely change your life. Fewer learnable skills have more translation to being successful in nearly all endeavors in life. As others smarter than I have said, this is actually the only skill most need to make it.
We are talking about Delayed Gratification (idk if the title gave that away or not).
As always, I’m going to give this a spin in a health and fitness theme and lens, but this concept is far from limited to just that.
In a modern world designed to do the exact opposite and lure us into instant gratification + the fact most people go through life with nearly zero intent, if you can master this you’re playing on a completely different playing field.
Today we are going to go over how we can learn and develop this skill and little tips and tricks to truly give ourselves an edge not only with our fitness results but our lives.
It’s All About The Dopamine
We have this wonderful little chemical in our brains called dopamine. It is a neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for our motivation and drive to do/accomplish things.
The thing is, dopamine is tricky. It can be our best friend or our worst nightmare. It can make you a jacked millionaire or it can make you a drug addict out on the streets.
The challenge here is making dopamine work for us rather than we be a slave to it.
You see, dopamine doesn’t actually care what you do, it just wants you to do something—it wants to alleviate the “pain” of being bored in most cases. To the brain, it really doesn’t matter what that thing is you do, as long as it avoids the pain of being in a state of boredom.
This is why things like social media, video games, XXX content, junk food, and anything that takes very little work but provides pleasure can ultimately ruin your life—you become addicted and because there is a never-ending supply of this “cheap” dopamine, you will develop poor work ethic habits because the brain thinks “why put much effort into something when we can be satisfied with no effort”—this is why you see so many mediocre, obese people EVERYWHERE—they cannot say “no” to cheap dopamine (they are addicts/slaves to their impulses).
This works in the inverse too:
If you are working on productive, meaningful tasks and making progress/getting results, you will become addicted to this too. The dopamine will feel the same, only more fulfilling, and you will develop habits and a relationship between effort and accomplishing goals combined with this “addiction”—which will likely translate to other facets of life when this relationship is formed.
You need to develop this relationship because all things worth having in life will require effort and time, hence the need to be able to delay gratification in order to actually fulfill whatever goal or result it is you want.
When we look at this from a fitness standpoint, we see this everywhere. Muscle takes time (months and years) to build. You will go days, weeks even, seeing practically zero change but yet putting this effort and time in is REQUIRED to see any appreciable muscle growth. So while it might be easier to just skip the gym and be inconsistent, you will see zero results.
The same goes with diet, fat loss takes time, and we can only safely lose around 1-2lbs of fat a week. This requires a daily (or at least a net weekly) caloric deficit. It is hard to feel hungry and again you won’t see the results overnight… or even week to week many times. What IS easy is to say “fuck it” and eat whatever junk food you want. Again, if we do this, say goodbye to any progress!
This is great and all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out, so what are some methods we can use to actually hone in and develop this skill—even the best of us can get even better!
Developing Delayed Gratification
Developing the practice of delayed gratification doesn’t just happen overnight (for most). It’s like if someone wanted to quit smoking and didn’t have the willpower to quit cold turkey—they wouldn’t just give up, they would create a system that helps them quit.
This is what it’s like with instant gratification. We need to develop a system we can easily follow to help us avoid giving in to stimuli.
Here’s how we do that:
Eliminate things slowing you down or negatively affecting you
Become comfortable being uncomfortable → do things that bore you
Identify the EXACT daily steps to ensure progress & create a system to get those done every day
Have a clear goal or outcome you want & have a deeper “why” to remind you of the importance of this goal
Understand there is no “end” or “final outcome”
This is simple so we will start here:
If it is negatively impacting you or your life… you are literally the definition of “insanity” if you don’t do whatever it takes to eliminate it from your life. When it comes to instant gratification, we don’t have to be absolutists and live like a monk, but we have to be ruthless in removing whatever is slowing us down.
This can be as simple as removing junk food from your house, stopping doom-scrolling social media all day to make time for the gym, stop going out and getting hammered every single weekend, or any number of issues causing regression in your life.
Typically, we know what is slowing us down, but this requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves and not make stupid justifications for why we do these things. It might even be helpful for you to audit your day and write down exactly what it is causing these friction points.
You likely won’t be successful overnight eliminating these things, but it’s something you must be cognizant of and ACTIVELY work on getting better. Over time, your ability to cut down on these behaviors is actually better fueling your habit of delaying gratification (win/win).
The big key here is going to be eliminating any cope and bullshit justifications and just being honest—we’ll call this step one just like an Alcoholics Anonymous type meeting.
Many people’s struggles and lack of progress come from an inability to be bored or uncomfortable. This rears its ugly face in many forms, typically by jumping to a task we talked about above or procrastination.
You should be able to sit with yourself in silence and be okay, you should be able to be hungry and not impulsively eat, you should be able to be uncomfortable for 30 short minutes while you do some cardio, etc. You get the point again.
The more you can do things you don’t want to do that will directly take you closer to your goal, the better you get at delayed gratification. You MUST mentally accept that it will not always be fun and you will not always be full of energy, willpower, and motivation. It is what it is.
For this, stuff like meditation and cardio are actually “hacks” for developing the skill of delayed gratification. This isn’t some woo-woo esoteric theory, no, meditation actually supercharges our ability to do nothing, which then directly (on a neurochemistry level) be able to delay gratification better. Cardio is similar because it is almost a form of walking meditation, but also because it is both boring and uncomfortable.
The more you can force yourself into the gym, the more days you can be hungry on a diet, the more times you can take a hard set to failure, the more you can avoid that drink to “unwind after a stressful day”, the more you’re building up this skill.
Create a System
This is probably the best method of attaining any results you’re after + establishing a mental framework grounded in delayed gratification (hence I bring it up almost constantly).
Creating a system is really as easy and simple as this:
Identify the exact tasks you need to do every day to get closer to your desired goal
Once these are identified, every day you prioritize these tasks and ensure they get done
Rarely ever think of progress as a day-to-day thing, rather completely “buy in” to your system and focus on following it rather than focusing on any day-to-day changes
As time goes by, tweak and adjust this system to ensure you are still making incremental progress toward your goal
This is really as simple as it gets as it forces you to focus on doing the work rather than focusing on where you aren’t yet—your goal.
With this, I really like to factor in lifestyle design and set up my day when this becomes harder to mess up. For example:
I do my cardio when I wake up because my stomach is empty (no risk of side stitches or nausea) + this gives me a clear head, a better mood, and more focus for the day—it’s synergistic.
Then during the day, I have set times where I know I’m going to eat my meals and have those meals already made so it just becomes a matter of grabbing them and eating them. There is no room for “Oh, I haven’t eaten in too long and have nothing made” and go for something quick and unplanned which can mess up your diet.
During the work day, I take breaks and go on walks. This allows me to get my step goals + sunlight for vitamin D + allows the mind to reset, destress, come up with ideas, and refocus on work
Then I have a set time to go to the gym timed after a specific meal so it becomes like clockwork, for me personally I have this time set for right after my last block of work (this sometimes changes) so I’m able to destress and blow off any steam from the workday. I also use this time to come up with content because my best gym-related content comes from… shocker… while I’m in the gym
The point of this isn’t about what I specifically do, but how I make tasks work synergistically so this system becomes even more efficient. Then it just becomes a matter of just checking the boxes on these tasks and knowing in the back of my head I did enough to progress this day.
Again, by being methodical and having a good plan/system, this allows you to game the gratification system by almost gamifying life or making it just a simple series of steps to check off and forget about.
Now you’re going to make a fool-proof system to keep the progress going.
To truly be able to stave off the temptations of the immense amount of instant gratification, we need to have something that gives us a deeper purpose. You need to find that driving force that makes everything else feel trivial.
I cannot tell you what your “why” is, but it needs to be concise and powerful. I personally use my son, I want to ensure as his father I am the best possible example of what a great man is so I ensure I am setting this example so that he one day grows up to hopefully do great things himself.
Whenever I catch myself getting distracted and doing things I shouldn’t, I can just mentally refer back to this and it is enough to make me stop and get my shit together.
Just make this unique to yourself and create the mental image of what type of person you should be and what you should do to achieve this “why”. Essentially you want to brainwash your own self into your own “why” so it becomes so powerful it can immediately change your course of actions… you should have some guilt when you catch yourself not living up to it.
It’s cliche, yes, this advice is in nearly all “self-help” books, but it’s there for a reason—it is powerful and it works.
Nothing Is Ever Really Over
We create these systems, follow them, and finally, we’re able to practice delayed gratification.
We did it, but we continue to do it and that’s what I mean by “understand there is no end or final outcome”. Our work is never truly finished.
Life is a constant struggle of overcoming ourselves and challenges until the day we die. The second you stop looking for meaningful challenges is the day you start declining until eventually, you die.
“Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop”. Whenever we stop striving for better is the day we start giving into instant gratification.
This should not discourage you, rather it should excite you to become process-oriented and enjoy every moment of life because this idea we “make it” one day and suddenly we do nothing all day might sound cool, but I promise you will go insane from boredom/dissatisfaction—this is why great people never really retire, they might retire from one phase of life, but they are always seeking another challenge.
The old quote is true:
Putting It All Together
Make your dopamine work for you—delay gratification.
Put down the excess junk in your life and eliminate things that take your attention away from your goals. Get comfortable being bored from time to time & embrace the suck.
Make it easier on yourself and create a system that brings you to your goals faster, then focus on the deeper “why” to stay on track.
Do all of this and then realize, your work is truly never done.
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.