One of the biggest changes I have made in my life in the last few years is to recognize how much I have focused on immediate gratification. Not the obsessive-compulsive, addictive definition where you can't stop yourself from eating, drinking, shopping, Facebook scrolling, or whatever, but more of the chasing after things that I knew I could get and fast. Examples of this are: over scheduling my days by booking too many appointments and then having to race from one to another, just barely making it in time, and when I did feel like a rockstar - Winning! Only, even though it felt pretty exciting at the time ( will she make it or won't she?) I finally realized that I was settling for what I now call Quick Hits (of dopamine, that is). And I also realized that there was no amount of quick hits that would really add up to anything truly awesome. What I needed was the patience, persistence, and discipline to reach for more meaningful goals, the kind that takes time to reach, not the immediate gratification kind. I now call them Big Wins.
Now, don't get me wrong. I still love me some quick hits. To tell you the truth, I try to work in opportunities to have quite a few of them on a daily basis. And it doesn't even take that much to give me a quick hit (aka dopamine shooter.) It can be as simple as making someone laugh unexpectedly or the thrill of finding something I have been coveting suddenly on sale and in my size. Working out never fails to give me a quick hit and neither does exceeding my expectations when I am learning a new skill and challenging myself. But I had to be honest with myself and admit that if I had made a commitment to pursuing the truly scary exciting goals that I dreamed of, I would be more satisfied with how I had been spending my life.
So, the point here is not to eliminate Quick Hits from your life. You need them and they don't require much in the way of planning, effort, or skill. But what you do need more of is Big Wins and a better balance between the two. Being overly reliant on Quick Hits as your way of generating excitement, creating momentum, and feeling successful is just not going to take you as far and making the commitment to a few Big Wins and pursuing them on a consistent basis, along with your Quick Hits along the way. In fact, what is the best strategy of all is to identify and commit to one or more Big Wins and then use the benchmarks and milestones along the way as Quick Hits, so you stay motivated, inspired, and on track.
Neuroscientists have identified that human beings make thousands of decisions every day, large and small. The brain loves habits, so it doesn't have to work so hard. If we stick to the same habits, rituals, and routines on a daily basis (and nearly all of us do) we aren't making so many new decisions, just acting on ones we have made at some point in the past, rinse and repeat. When we are faced with a choice point - do I stay at the bar with friends and continue hanging out and drinking on a Wednesday night or do I excuse myself and go home to get enough sleep, get up early and work on my big goals ( and avoid a hangover? ) Well, if you're having fun (and hey they are your friends and alcohol is involved, so of course you are!) your brain will want you to keep doing what you're doing. Your friends will want you to as well. But in order for you to avoid giving in to the Quick Win of feeling good and making others happy by staying, you make the decision to call it a night and leave, thereby making a step toward becoming a person who has the ability to delay gratification and works toward something more.
Now, I gotta be honest with you, my friend. It won't feel that great at the moment. And that's the hard part. Immediate gratification feels good (that's why the word gratification is in there.) Delayed gratification also feels good, but you have to wait for it. And let's face it, we have all become a lot more impatient since fast food and faster downloads became the norm. Much has been written about how the prevalence of video games and social media has eroded the attention span and increased the addictive nature of human beings. And even if you aren't a gamer and have never even heard of Twitter, your attention span has been eroded too, simply because there is so much information being thrust at you from every direction at an ever-increasing rate that you simply can't afford to give things your full attention and make a thoughtful decision, unless you take charge and learn the difference between Quick Hits and Big Wins. Every moment, every day, we make a choice. What's yours?