The Principle of Long-time Perspective: How to Delay Gratification and Maximize Rewards

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This is a principle i came to understand better while listening to Brian Tracy’s audio program, The Miracle of Self discipline.

It’s nothing elaborate really but i appreciate it because i can validate it in my experience and it’s my daily struggle to align with it.

The principle of Long-time perspective simply teaches that people succeed to the limit of their ability to exercise their faculty of imagination to think about their long term future, their goals and to align their actions in the present such that it secures the achievement of that desired future or goal.

It was Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard University, a leading scholar and an adviser to many US presidents, who reached this conclusion after more than 50 years of research studying successful people.

It was his conclusion that “long-time perspective” is the most accurate single predictor of upward social and economic mobility in America.

Long-time perspective turns out to be more important than family background,education, race, intelligence, connections or virtually any other single factor in determining success in life and at work.

I will explain 5 ways in which the long-time perspective plays out and shape people’s lives:

1. Imagination

According to Brian Tracy, Successful people have a clear future orientation. They think five, 10 and 20 years out into the future. They analyze their choices and behaviours in the present to make sure that they are consistent with the long-term future that they desire.

One of the basic problems especially with young people and why they dissipate their energy is an inability or weakness in exercising the faculty of imagination to see the future. They usually see what is right before them and not what is in front of them.

This is why vision is very important. Vision in my experience tends to shape your choices, what you do, where you do it and with whom you do it. The bible is right that where there is no revelation (vision), people cast off restraints.

2. Delaying gratification

M. Scott Peck in the landmark book, The Road Less Travelled defines delayed gratification as “a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.”

According to him, “It is the only decent way to live.”

In an age of the internet of things, we expect that many of life’s richest and fulfilling rewards should come at the click of a button. How shallow, gullible and naïve?

Advertisements, credit card schemes of buy now and pay later, among many others, are the cancers eating away at our ability to delay gratification. Waiting is for the weak and so we rush to grab it now, only for it to live a bland taste in our mouth.

We forget to heed the counsel of Solomon, “Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterwards his mouth will be filled with gravel.”

Some of our desires are often legitimate but our inability to wait for the proper time and way to express them makes them wrong.

I’m often sober when I recall the words of Ezra Taft Benson that “Years of happiness can be lost in the foolish gratification of a momentary desire for pleasure.”

3. Clear sense of consequences and rewards

Our brain is wired to seek rewards and to maximize it. Most of our efforts in life is geared towards maximizing pleasure and avoiding pain. Honestly there is nothing wrong with this.

However, a clear perspective on rewards means that we understand the necessity of enduring short term pain in order to enjoy long term gain. This is a mark of superior character. It is a faculty that is painstakingly developed.

Except we are able to see with utmost objectivity and clarity the consequences of our actions, we all can all be subject to self-destruction. This is sobering.

Sometimes, we need an external force to create a deeper consciousness of rewards and consequences. It is a spiritual renewal of the senses.

It is a faculty of the mind that can be developed through the reading of wisdom literatures, listening to Men of high integrity and moral character and choosing to cultivate noble thoughts.

I recommend that The Bible should be read with emphasis on the book of proverbs in this case as well as classics such as James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh and Benjamin Franklin’s The Art of Virtue etc.

I have also found it personally helpful to read great quotes in my areas of improvement.

4. Time is the price

Anything worthwhile, lasting and fulfilling is the product of time. Time can therefore not be hurried, at least not in the development of virtue and in the realization of vision.

This explains the reason why superior economies are those that have long range plans that their government is committed to. It also explains the poverty of the developing world. Short term thinking is a major factor that is responsible for their poverty and snail’s progress.

So also in the individual, the exceptional achievers are those who understand that the price of mastery is effort and time. They are the ones who add the discipline of consistency to small positive steps which compounds over time to create phenomenal and enduring success.

The simpletons look upon them and consider such people as lucky. The wise however will seek to know the disciplines that enabled the expression of their greatness and get to work on their cultivation day in, day out.

Sincerely, real and lasting change or results take time.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said,“That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased”. And I add that it’s because we have persisted over time.

5. A mark of wisdom

Honestly, practising long time perspective is one of the most practical expression of wisdom. It’s so rare that I’m tempted to label it a divine ability (save for those who will use my opinion as a basis to avoid personal responsibility).

Two historic characters personify this principle. One is Daniel. Though of noble birth, he wound up as a slave when King Nebuchadnezzar besieged and captured Israel.

Daniel’s ability to practice long time perspective and to discipline himself accordingly helped sustained an excellent spirit that earned him credibility and favour with successive kings despite an humble beginning of captivity in Babylon.

Another is Joseph. His ability to capture his vision for life at a young age enabled him to resist the advances of his master’s cunning and conniving wife. It enabled him to exercise personal leadership in all his circumstances, to eventually solve a nation’s problem and become a prime minister in a land where he was initially a slave.

One thing distinguishes these men – an exceptional sense of vision that produced laser focus and an unusual ability to exercise restraints over their senses and appetites.

It’s so admirable that I can only think of it as divine.

I will also add that where we find ourselves wanting in human capability, we can ask the creator to guide our thoughts and lives strongly enough to capture this height and depth of vision.

Another method will be to read the biographies of men who have led credible and inspiring lives, perhaps something of their spirit might rob of on us. And often times, it does.

Oswald Sanders wrote, ” if it is true that a man is known by the company he keeps, it is no less true that his character is reflected in the books he reads, for they are the outward expression of his inner hunger and aspiration.”

It is indeed my own experience that books have been one of the most potent instrument the creator has used and is still using to shape my vision for the future. It is where I go to develop and sustain motivation for the pursuit of vision.

Books are not an end in themselves. Their purpose however is fulfilled when they inspire you to reach more than you can grasp. And that is another way to look at vision – your reach exceeding your grasp.

Let’s have a conversation

In what way have you allowed your focus on the immediate to distract you from your desired future? How can you start implementing the ideas and thinking above to develop a long-time perspective?

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