Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I want it now or delayed gratification - which will result in success?

Yesterday I criticized the conclusions of a Financial Planner who blamed a couples' investment in real estate as the cause of their retirement problems. My main point was that this couple had given themselves perks that they had not yet earned.

Today we live in an "I want it now" generation. Young people buy houses that are larger than their parents homes while still in their twenties. Most people will buy what they want on credit long before they can pay for it. The abundance of blogs on solving debt is an indicator of how well entrenched this mindset is. The current crisis in the sub prime loan market is also an indicator. People blame the banks, but in reality, it is the borrowers who are trying to finance properties that they cannot afford that are at the root of the problem.

Many studies have shown that the ability to delay rewarding ourselves until we have earned something is a key predictor of success. I have had this quality to a large degree since I was quite young. I am addicted to chocolate, but can keep a stock for weeks by doling out small amounts every day. I remember my first exposure to people without self control in college. This group of women would bake some sweets and binge on them, stuffing themselves until every crumb was gone and they were sick. If I were addicted to gambling or alcohol, I am sure I would drink half a beer a day or gamble away a dollar a day.

I'm not sure if delayed gratification is an inherent quality that some people have or something that can be learned. I remember when I had an Amway business that the successful people preached to their audience about the requirement for long term financial success had to do with delaying rewards until you had the money. None of my kids seems to have this trait despite my talking about it. Of course, none have my genes and their biological parents certainly did not have that trait.

I've often thought that people with weight problems also lack the ability to delay gratification - rewarding themselves with food without putting in the necessary exercise. The solution to many people is to blame the restaurants for their health problems or financial problems. Few seem to want to exercise the self-control needed to control their lives.

The title of this post is a rhetorical question obviously. But how do those who won't or can't engage in delayed gratification create success? I am of the opinion that this is a learned trait, but it is becoming a minority opinion where once it was a majority opinion.

Can you change?

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