The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Principle #6: Postponing Gratification

Principle #6: Postponing gratification

Specifically, the ability to postpone gratification, to move toward a worthy goal in an incremental fashion.

Human beings and insects are both programmed to move away from pain and toward pleasure. This is great for children, who have to learn not to play with knives, and to seek the source of food. But as we get older, the same pleasure-pain principle can motivate us to eat too many sweets, avoid homework, or neglect exercise.

The ability to understand that short-term pain (balancing the checkbook) or denial (controlling food intake) leads to long-term pleasure, and that short-term pleasure (smoking) can learn to long-term agony (lung cancer) is critical to the process of maturation.

The level beyond that is rather fascinating: real masters in any discipline actually find a way to take pleasure in things that most of us avoid like the plague: endless repetition, grueling work schedules, unyielding discipline. They take pleasure in accepting strain that others reject. They visualize their rivals getting up at 6am, so they get up at 5:30. They write every day, and glory in being the kind of person who can "gut it out" when the discipline is brain-twisting. They give to their families, and in their relationships, even when it hurts, taking pleasure in the fact that they can go further, and deeper, for their loved ones than anyone they know.

These people are frightening, and inspiring, to watch. I can promise you that almost every human being you have ever admired has this capacity...and you can have it as well.

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