Skip to content

Just one more cookie won’t hurt … or will it?

Instant gratification isn’t worth it. Don’t let it distract you from focusing on the long term.

Dominik Nitsch
7 min read
Just one more cookie won’t hurt … or will it?
Photo by Vyshnavi Bisani on Unsplash
Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

As I’m typing these lines, I’m on an airplane. For the first time in 11 months. But unlike last year, when we had no idea that the second and third wave of COVID would be worse than the first one, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. (I hope I don’t have to eat my words come fall).

For me, that light at the end of the tunnel was attending a live soccer game in a stadium. It felt so … normal. Sure, you “have to” wear masks (as seen on TV), the protocols to get in are a bit more difficult than before and the stadium isn’t as full. But other than that, it was eerily similar to what it used to be. Fans chanting, going through the emotions that come with a soccer game, kids getting excited to see their favorite players in person, and in the end, the underdog wins. Sports are beautiful. The best form of live entertainment.

All this is only possible because we’ve made strides over the past 18 months that were previously deemed impossible. More specifically — four EU-approved vaccines against COVID-19 had been developed in less than a year, and by now, 18 months after the pandemic, literally anyone in a developed country can (and should, damn it) get a shot. I remember anxiously refreshing the vaccine appointment booking page for a few months, trying to get an appointment — and all the sudden, within a week or two, everyone in my environment was vaccinated. It was almost magical.

Yet at the time, when I was staring at the progress of vaccinations in Germany every say, it felt so slow. We just weren’t getting anywhere. I was joking with my friends that I’m looking forward to getting my vaccine at some point in March ’22. And while that’s still a reality for way too many people in the world, vaccination speed is getting faster and faster every day.

Retrospectively, a few months aren’t a lot. But in the moment, they feel like forever. Especially when those months are lived in highly constrained conditions. It‘s not easy to wait a few months when you’re used to getting instant gratification wherever you want.

Instant gratification has become the new normal. Can’t recall a fact? Just google it. Want to meet cute girls? Just swipe a bit on your favorite dating app (can strongly recommend Hinge). Want to watch a movie? Netflix is just two taps on the remote away. Fuck, I can even order groceries and have them delivered to my apartment door within 10 minutes (although, let’s be honest — does anyone really need that?).

Our environment has changed. But one fundamental truth has not: good things take time.

“People strongly overestimate what they can do in one year, and strongly underestimate what they can do in ten.”

When facing a pandemic, every day added to vaccine development feels forever. Every day that the development takes longer, people die. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people put in the grind every day and night to just get a bit further.

And with these thousands of hours put in, all the sudden, almost overnight, you have a functional vaccine. Had they just quit because “it’s just too hard” and “we still don’t have a vaccine”, well, we wouldn’t have one right now.

In times where everybody thinks short-term, think long-term. In business, everyone wants instant results. Generate revenue, and generate revenue now. Which forces us to focus on things that are urgent, to randomly try things and see what sticks — but we’re not doing the things that are truly important.

Working overtime to meet the unrealistic expectations imposed on you is a short-term solution — but wouldn’t it make more sense to take a step back and question the process that you’re working with instead?

Same goes for sports. I’m usually thinking towards my next Lacrosse game and how I can get in shape for that, but never really questioned my fundamentals. Then COVID came along, Lacrosse practice was canceled, and all the sudden my strength and conditioning coach and I had the time to go back to basics.

Turns out, I had been running super inefficiently all my life. Just think of the injuries I could’ve avoided and the athletic success I could’ve had if I discovered this five years earlier. The last year was a grind, going back to the fundamentals of the basics, but it was so worth it — even though in the moment, it was highly frustrating having seemingly minimal progress.

We sleep less to work more — instant gratification (either for you or your boss, depending on how you operate). We should sleep more, so we can work more effectively.

We don’t read, because we have to work so much — again, instant gratification. We should read in order to “sharpen the saw”, so we can work more effectively.

We eat shitty takeout meals — instant gratification. We should take the time to shop, cook, and eat properly, so we can work and live more effectively.

Everywhere you look, we’re trading instant gratification for long-term benefits.

And I’m afraid that’s going to come back to haunt our whole generation.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

So instead, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves a few questions:

  • What am I currently doing that’s optimizing for the short term instead of the long term?
  • How can I set my goals so the long term is aligned with the short term?
  • Where am I getting instant gratification where I maybe shouldn’t be getting it?

Take some time to answer these questions (my answer are at the end of the post). It’ll help you to at least become more aware of what impact instant gratification has on you — and ideally show ways to break that cycle.

Nobody wants a generation of burned-out, crippled, sick 60-year-olds. The world needs a generation that sees the long term, not one that just chases the next dopamine high.

If you’re finding it difficult to answer the questions above, here are my answers:

What am I currently doing that’s optimizing for the short term instead of the long term?

In my private life, it’s mostly not sleeping enough. According to my WHOOP, I slept an average of 05:53h per night in the last two weeks. Given the training that I do (90–120min of Lacrosse practice three times per week, along with lifting three times per week), that’s ridiculous — and noticeably has an impact not just on my physical recovery, but also on my mental focus.I feel a lot less productive at work.

So on days in which I’d actually have the chance to sleep early, I either take the instant gratification of meeting up with people (which is okay) and staying way later than I should (which isn’t okay). Or I just scroll through Instagram and Reddit for 30 minutes in bed — time that I could be sleeping.

Professionally, I’m not nearly spending enough time on training my new hires, because I can do these things faster (instant gratification). That’s blowing up in my face right now — I should’ve taken the time a few weeks ago to properly train them, and now would be able to delegate all those things that are clogging up my to-do list.

Well, at least I know that I need to do it now, even though it’s painful: I don’t have time because I have so many things on my list. You see the problem.

How can I set my goals so long term is aligned with the short term?

I recently thought about which fitness metrics I’d still like to achieve when I’m 60. I’d still want to bench press 1.25X of my bodyweight, squat 1.5X, deadlift 2X, run a 5k in < 30 minutes. In order to do that, I have to think differently: not so much about how I can add another 5kg right now, but how I can build the structure, technique and resilience to be able to do this for 30+ more years.

Professionally, I try to have one or two quarterly key results in my OKRs that are geared towards long-term improvement in the company.

Where am I getting instant gratification where I shouldn’t be getting it?

I’ve noticed a strong uptick in my Netflix consumption. It’s just so easy to distract yourself from the things on your to do list when you can watch Jack Bauer in “24” bite people’s ears off. Instead, I feel like I should schedule that time, and not just get it whenever I can. Anticipation is a beautiful feeling.🙂

And now, I gotta stop typing. Landing is turbulent, as thunderstorms are raging in Berlin. And the stewardess next to me keeps urging me to put away my — — — -

Read also:

What the hell does “trust the process” actually mean?
3 mindset tweaks to be less frustrated and achieve more.
Leveling up in real life: every move is a new opportunity.
Every location change leads to environment change. Every environment change leads to a changed you.
I dissected the way I spend my time. Here’s how my priorities shifted afterwards
Do I really spend 05:15 hours on maintenance activities every day?

Related Posts

Members Public

4 Things You Can Do To Stay Replenished

“There are two types of wells: one is empty, and whenever some water goes into it, it’s directly emptied again. The other is full…

4 Things You Can Do To Stay Replenished
Members Public

Valuable Resources for Internationalization

Going international is tough — yet there’s very little literature on it. Here’s some good stuff.

Valuable Resources for Internationalization
Members Public

Leveling up in real life: every move is a new opportunity.

Every location change leads to environment change. Every environment change leads to a changed you.

Leveling up in real life: every move is a new opportunity.