When I became a father and started to become connected with organized activities and sports for my kids, I noticed something that was much different from when I grew up. There appeared to be a high sensitivity among parents and organizers to ensure that all kids received a reward for their participation regardless of their engagement, performance or contribution. The most noteworthy was the idea that all kids would receive a trophy for a sports competition, even if they did not win the game.
I wonder what people are thinking? Are they afraid that their kids will feel bad or somehow be scarred for life because they lost a game? Do they think kids will somehow be more motivated to win their next game because they were rewarded for not winning the previous game? Seriously?
Perhaps this type of thinking comes from the advice of psychologists or other experts, but I personally believe it is a mistake and can have a long-term impact on future attitude and achievement.
There is a concept that I learned in my early 20’s while working as a sales engineer for Johnson Controls, Inc. I used to spend a lot of time in the car between sales calls, and I liked to pass the drive time by learning rather than just playing music. I listened to tapes on sales strategies and personal development (yes folks, I said tapes – what are those?!). One of my favorites was an achievement series by Brian Tracy, a well-known speaker and sales trainer. Brian introduced me to the idea of delayed gratification.
This is more of a discipline that you can adopt, rather than something that just happens to you. The idea is that you have a much better chance of achieving larger goals in life if you do not expect significant rewards or allow yourself to accept rewards along the way. That is, you delay any rewards during the journey of achieving your goal, making you that much more hungry and motivated to getting to the end goal you had in mind.
For example, suppose you have a goal to run a 25 mile marathon. I would argue that if you celebrate too much (i.e. rewarding yourself) when you reach 10, 15 or even 20 miles, you will begin to lose your motivation to achieve your ultimate goal. It can seem a bit subtle, but in my view the more you can delay your celebration until you ultimately achieve the 25 mile marathon, the more you will be driven and motivated to get there. If you celebrate too soon, what is waiting for you once you get there, assuming you actually do?
It’s a motivation destroyer in my view.
Although I have used the principle of delayed gratification throughout my life and hope to instill the same thinking with my kids, I have also seen many colleagues and friends over the years fall into the opposite trap. Many had the attitude of entitlement (perhaps since they were used to getting rewarded all the time as children), or had expectations that rewards should come easy and without hard work. The same people often compared themselves to others, and were quick to feel they had been somehow cheated when others achieved goals that they would have liked to achieve. The problem was that most had lost their desire and motivation to control their own destiny and achieve their own goals. There was no “fire in the belly” anymore. Most would never live up to their full potential until they changed their attitude from instant to delayed gratification.
Now, I’m not saying that you should always take the hard road, but I am saying that if you “sell out” to the quick reward you will also sell out on your future.
The best things in life often do not come easy. It takes work, real work.
A good marriage, being in great physical health, advancing your career at work, learning a new hobby, breaking a bad habit – these are all things that take effort. If you expect to be rewarded at every step of the journey, you will no doubt fall short of your ultimate goal. In fact, how would you ever know if you can achieve something if you let short-term rewards kill your motivation?
So next time you set a goal for yourself, think about what it is going to take to get there, and do not allow yourself to get distracted with short-term rewards. You might be surprised what you are capable of achieving.