A conversation in a hot tub with my friend Toby led to the initiation of this post, as we were passing the time and discussing the subject of works, suffering and life in general. One of the subjects we got quite deep into was that of short-term wins versus long-term wins, the timeless balance of enjoying the present and being mindful of the future. It was early morning, and the gym around us was quiet. It was a perfect time for observation.
Toby was professing his thoughts on the importance of the present. Now, I know this young man very well. He is a driven, articulate and well-rounded individual who has a high-level job in operations, is an active Royal Marine Reserve, a capable runner and a beginner in the world of CrossFit (you’re welcome, Toby, seriously…) The man is goal-focused, purposeful, motivated and going places. It is good to see.
But he is also a social animal. He regularly drives a long way just to see me, and I know he does it for a number of other friends additionally. Many of these are spontaneous decisions, formed entirely in the now and in the absence of a grander system. He applies these systems to some aspects of his life and is still working on applying them throughout, which is surely true for all of us, right?
Right. Application of balanced systems throughout all of life is an uphill battle. My retort in this instance was in the spirit of debate, but it resonated with Toby strongly enough that he suggested I write about this subject. And here it is.
Human success throughout history, what distinguishes us from the animals, has been built solely on the ability to make a sacrifice now for a benefit in the long-term. The ability to delay gratification to make the future better.”
It is simple, and it is obvious, yet it is profound. And it is applicable in every aspect of life. The importance of sacrifice to the human condition has been stressed since biblical times, with the story of Cain and Abel being one of the foundational stories of sacrifice. It emphasises the value and importance of sacrifice, and though there is a deeper moral I will leave that to one more experienced than me to discuss.
Applying this principle in all the different spheres of life seems illogical, but let me give you a few examples below.
- Career. Putting a long amount of hours in early in many professions gains you the network, respect and early promotions required to earn excellent money in your later years. One example of this is the accounting world, where graduates famously put in 14+ hour days on the promise of (if they survive!) extraordinary salaries.
- Investment. It is the ability to not spend money now so that your money can grow itself, and in time you can have exponentially more money later. (See this article on the power of compound interest.)
- Diet. In this environment, it is delaying the gratification of “sugar-coated lies” such as doughnuts, cookies or chocolate bars to maintain the healthy physique and lifestyle that you want to maintain.
- Exercise. It is the ability to put yourself through hell, force your body to adapt to stressors and painful circumstances to improve and maintain its capabilities. By sacrificing effort in the short term, one breeds health and long-life.
- Social Situations and Relationships. Making the effort to connect and bond with friends, family and potential partners, giving those people the effort of your full attention and focus will yield countless benefits back to you over the years and decades you spend with those individuals in their goodwill towards you.
- Skills and vocations. Taking the time to learn new things does not always have an obvious benefit, and it can require immense effort in the short term. However, taking this attitude towards life leads to countless opportunities and you never know when those skills you put the effort into learning will come in useful.
If you need more examples, I can give you them – this is just the tip of the iceberg. The ability to delay gratification is one of the most vital skills one can develop as a human being, and it is arguably a valuable predictor of future success. If you can sacrifice now with the intent of winning later, you set yourself up for the statistically-provable powers of compounding to catapult you on a wave of exponentials, with that wave being (hopefully!) in a positive direction. And as discussed in my systems post previously, you can rig the game such that even when you lose, you win in some way.
And I feel the need to caveat the ending here. When you plan with the future in mind, those sacrifices don’t have to be losses. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. If you can enjoy the pain of those gym sessions, enjoy the taste of healthy food, or enjoy the feeling of your bank balance growing as you tuck money away into investments, then you have won the toughest part of the battle. Live long and prosper!