There is virtually nothing in the world that we know to be more universally beneficial than the practice of delayed gratification. You can basically just think of something positive—anything positive—and you’ll find an extensive body of research showing that people who prioritize delayed gratification receive far more or it, far more consistently. It ranged from health to finances to life expectancy to career success to relationships, and on and on and on. It’s really quite amazing, but what’s even harder to believe is that despite all of this, about 90 percent of us are still living by our pain/pleasure programming. In other words, by what’s easiest in the moment.
I read about one fascinating study where the researchers got a bunch of people together and gave them a very simple task. They would be shown a screen filled with dots, which would be mostly moving in one direction, either to the right or the left. Each participant had a joystick, and all they had to do was move the joystick in the same direction that the majority of the dots were moving. What the researchers didn’t tell them was that as time went on, they were going to slowly increase the resistance of the stick against being moved in the correct direction. Once that happened, the majority of those people started moving their stick in the opposite direction. What’s really interesting is that when the researchers questioned them about it afterward, they said they’d been moving it correctly.
So as I see it, either those participants were lying, or their subconscious mind literally stepped in to show them something that wasn’t there. I know from extensive personal experience that this is absolutely possible—you see it all the time in anorexics, just to give one example—and this is just a little test, in which the participants have absolutely nothing at stake! The more dramatically you try to change your life, the more resistance your subconscious will create.
The consequences of this are pretty steep, too. The thing about taking the easy way—living by pain/pleasure programming—is that eventually it always ends up manifesting as selfishness. That programming is so powerful because it’s designed to keep you alive, which necessarily means prioritizing your own needs first. Now, that makes sense if you’re being chased by a man with a knife, or if you’re in some other kind of life-or-death emergency, but for most of us, those situations are very rare. Applying that programming to ordinary, everyday life is a recipe for disaster.
Pretty much everybody, no matter what their personal beliefs are, agrees that you shouldn’t put yourself first. When someone does, it starts to cause issues in their relationships almost immediately. People start to avoid you, they start to give back the kind of negative treatment you give them, and eventually, that road leaves you in isolation. One incredible study which I’ve mentioned often found that people whose relationships were full of conflict were 300 percent more likely to develop a serious illness and die by middle age, compared to people with harmonious relationships! To put that in perspective, I have never in my 30+ years in this field seen a single factor make anything close to that much difference. 25 percent still would have been headline news.
Ironically, a life that prioritizes our own survival ends up killing us. For me, this is biological proof that we were meant for something better than survival of the fittest. Proof that things like love and compassion are bigger than any set of laws we could create to enforce them. More than anything, it’s proof to me that loving relationships are the most important thing in life, and the difficulties that come with them are the best kind of problem to have.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!