Instant gratification vs realistic planning

This weekend I went to the body pump class and after the usual warm up we were getting ready to do a more complicated weights compilation. I’m no Serena Williams, but one thing I know for sure: what I lack in muscles, I compensate with ambition. As I was loading up my bar, the instructor said (looking at me and a couple of others): look, I want all of you to be ambitious, but please, don’t be greedy!

I had always thought about ‘greedy’ in a context of money, so was puzzled at the comment. What did she mean?

She explained she spoke based on more than 10 years of experience. People try to push themselves to the limit (regardless of sex and age), and then often end up injured and stop working out for a couple of months. Why don’t we try to ease into a heavier weight next weekend, she suggested? Listening to her I adjusted my weights and as I continued with the class, I wondered – how often are we the victims of our over-ambitious expectations? How often do we act counterproductive hoping the opposite will happen?

Instant gratification

Why do we do it? Don’t we all crave fast results, especially now, in an era of instant gratification where everything is easily accessible? Think about all the apps (from Amazon to Tinder) where you can get whatever you want…and get it now. It has changed our perception of what should be possible, too. We push through tiredness and often, our own limits.

It’s where you see the potential for immediate results that you tend to make up your mind and say: right, sounds great, I’ll start now. That’s the good part – if your plan is realistic. If it’s not, you are either disappointed with the results or give up too quickly.

Media and marketing are helping drive it. You see a 20-year old beautiful girl advertising an anti-wrinkle cream, you are tempted to buy it. You hear about someone’s success and one tip they share, you think this could work for you, too. But we are all different and this ‘one shoe fits all’ approach very rarely works. Try to design your own – scroll down to see how.

The proof it doesn’t have to be that hard

Think about the global epidemic of being on a diet. Researchers say that an average woman spends 31 years being on a diet in the never-ending quest for a perfect body. We are lured by the promise of a significant weight loss over a short period of time, and decide to act on however ridiculous the diet may be – either starving or depriving ourselves of essential nutrients. The result? We usually give up soon after we start, feeling discouraged, and lose control again. It could be deciding to quit smoking overnight (admire those who can do it), starting to work out every day, stopping negative thinking (all of it) – I guess you all had the experience of starting ‘too ambitious’ and then getting discouraged.

And it’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s the natural course of action we all follow. By putting too much on our shoulders we end up being counterproductive.

It doesn’t have to be hard – if you allow yourself some room for change instead of being very strict, you can enjoy the process, seeing continuous results.

Ambition trap

I’m no different and it happened to me several times to adopt a completely counterproductive approach, or worse, risk my health and well-being, when I wanted to take immediate action and was too greedy. It’s a derivative of being a perfectionist and believing ‘yes I can do it’ even faster than common sense would indicate. I spent more than 3 months on a restrictive intermittent fasting diet that wasn’t a good fit with my lifestyle, lots on weigh but also on energy, enthusiasm and muscle mass, and it wasn’t until my blood tests showed how poorly I was doing, and my friends got concerned, that it crossed my mind to change the plan.

The tricky thing is that I was proud for being so disciplined to do it I didn’t think I was putting myself in a worse situation. It hasn’t worked for the best because even though I had enough motivation, I didn’t really think about the implications of such a plan. That’s why you need to think it through for yourself, your lifestyle and your goals before you start. That’s the most important part.

Design your plan

In all areas of our lives we have the tendency to value short-term gain over long-term results. It’s in the way we think about health (diet and food), investment (we value whatever we can put in our bank account now vs a percentage earned on the same amount of money in a year), relationships (why so many couples break up after the honey moon period and keep on doing this again with a new partner?), etc.

The result is the same – we end up worse off that we could, only because we are tricked to make rash decisions.

How about you follow these three steps to make a meaningful improvement in your life?

  1. Prioritize: Take a moment to reflect on what is no 1 priority for you today, something that could help you at work, in your relationships, to feel better? You can list as many things as you want, but for this particular exercise, highlight one that you will focus on now, and keep the list for later.
  2. Take baby steps: What small action could you take to see a meaningful change in a week / a month? Close your eyes and imagine the difference you could make if you stay consistent over a long period of time.
  3. Reward yourself: This is as important as step 1 and 2. When you make progress, you should plan for regular rewards after each milestone you reach. This keeps you motivated and ensures you stay on track!

When we get over-ambitious, we don’t only end up worse off and miss out on possible opportunities, it also affects how we feel: disappointed with ourselves, discouraged, frustrated. But we keep on going, because in our mind we failed, regardless of how unrealistic the plan was. Try to get free of this habit and design a plan that will be ambitious, but realistic, and will make you enjoy it all.

Have fun…and go for more

Once you begin to see the results and whatever action you took becomes a natural part of your day, you can brush off the priorities list and do the same for a different part of your life. In finding a way to enjoy it, you will see the results much faster! Dream again and imagine how much could be done in a month or a year if you stay on a course?

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