Why does the obese guy (who says he wants to lose weight) eat a large pizza when nobody’s watching?
I have a friend who does this often, and here are the three reasons he gives…
- He doesn’t want people to know
- It gives him instant pleasure, and
- If he doesn’t eat the pizza (thereby delaying gratification) it won’t give him instant weight-loss (something he desires)…
…and thus, instant pleasure (in this case, pizza) is what he chooses, and often.
This is then followed by an hour or two of self-loathing.
“There’s always the next time!” he told me after his latest indulgence.
Over the past few years, I have kicked away a few things out of my life…including pizzas, soft drinks, other junk, and recently coffee…basically, things that controlled me.
Luckily, I have had a complete family support here, as my wife has hated this stuff for long, and my daughter hasn’t tasted much of these.
A few grown up friends are surprised to know that my daughter has never tasted a soft drink in her life – and she is nine now – despite the peer pressure all around.
“At least, let her taste it once,” most would often tell me.
My Munger-ish reply – “You don’t have to pee on an electric fence to learn not to do it.”
Earlier we “showed” her why she must not consume soft drinks. Now she does it out of choice – knowing well the long-term effect of the short-term pleasure a soft drink offers.
Here is a video Prof. Sanjay Bakshi shared recently at a conference and then on his blog.
It’s a TED speech of motivational speaker, Joachim de Posada, the co-author of a book titled “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow”.
The book, and the following video, is based on experiments in delayed gratification – showing why self-discipline is better than a lack of discipline.
If you can’t watch the video above, watch here.
You can easily replace “marshmallow” with “pizza” in the above video, and the context won’t change.
For most of us, our inability to say no (to certain things), has been, is, and will be, the thing that stands between us and success.
At least until we determine to choose, do and be different.
More often than not, putting off pleasure ‘in the now’ is the difference between failure and success over the long term.
This is true when it comes to transforming our bodies, or transforming our financial lives.
Think drugs, tobacco, alcohol, pizza, sitting on the couch…or even investing in bad businesses in the expectation of making a quick return – we are all looking for quick fixes…things that make us happy now.
The future be damned!
Short-Term Gain and Long-Term Pain
Warren Buffett wrote in his 2012 letter to shareholders…
Investing is often described as the process of laying out money now in the expectation of receiving more money in the future. At Berkshire Hathaway we take a more demanding approach, defining investing as the transfer to others of purchasing power now with the reasoned expectation of receiving more purchasing power — after taxes have been paid on nominal gains — in the future.
More succinctly, investing is forgoing consumption now in order to have the ability to consume more at a later date.
Working with hundreds of small investors over the last ten years, it’s been my experience and observation that instant gratification – the want to earn money fast – is what brings many of us down.
However, what people fail to understand is that being addicted to pleasure in the now – like of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, junk food, or even hot stocks – is usually synonymous with pain and disappointment over the long term.
Our short-term gain becomes our long-term pain.
This is especially when that short-term gain – sugar, salt, caffeine, or the ‘kick’ from quick stock market returns – creates almost-instant biochemical changes in our physiology.
Like my friend told me numerous times prior to the 2008 stock market crash – “Oh I love that stock! It has earned me 50% in less than a month!”
I could feel the pride on his face, his glowing eyes, and his “willingness” to do it again i.e., continue to grow his money 50% in less than a month!
Anyways, that friend of mine has closed his stock trading account, and is now working on weekends to repay his debts.
Junk that Pizza!
After having suffered the after-effects of pizzas and Cokes for some time, now more than ever before, I’m convinced that most people who ultimately want to transform their lives (and their financial lives) are barking up the wrong tree.
As I have realized, in terms of success or failure, the critical issue is not…
- What I know (surprisingly, isn’t it?),
- What I understand, or
- What resources I have at my disposal
Rather, what would bring me success or failure would depend entirely on what I am willing to give up in ‘the now’ to get where I want to go in the future.
It’s about delaying gratification.
Now, whatever someone would tell you, this isn’t a 100-meter race.
You are not going to junk that pizza overnight. It’s a long-drawn process, and with withdrawal symptoms.
Of course, you will meet people who would want to sell you instant and painless solutions to help you get over your instant gratification problems….
…but please understand that the real change process is typically a messy, uncomfortable, inconvenient and painful one.
But that’s something you must go through, if you aim to achieve any success in your life and investing.
Our brain is, after all, hard-wired for immediate rewards and can delay gratification for just little more than a few minutes.
We’re brought up to want it all and want it now. This short-term focus robs many of us of so many things in life, including happiness, good health, and wealth.
The reality, as I’ve understood over the years and what I’ve learned from legendary investors, is that few things that are really worthwhile are easy – like creating wealth over the long run. Nor do they happen instantly.
The more you can zoom out on your life, look at the bigger picture, and then take small steps towards a better long-term life, the happier you will end up being.
Anyways, in order to fool my hard-wired brain, I hide behind the teachings of Buffett and Buddha – both of whom tell me to disregard instant gratification in pursuit of my long-term objectives.
Buddha tells me this…
To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.
And here’s what I’ve learned from Buffett…
Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
So plant a tree…and please learn to avoid that pizza!
You owe it to your child’s future.