Delayed gratification is putting off what you’d like to have today to achieve your major goals tomorrow. Every major personal or societal goal demands a high degree of delayed gratification.
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Most of the solutions to the issues we face personally and as a society are pretty straightforward. But hard to implement, requiring, among other things, delayed gratification. Most of us don’t want that for ourselves, and we have let our politicians know it. They know they cannot vote for any solutions that require any kind of delayed gratification, because we will not re-elect them if they do. And nothing gets fixed. Nothing gets done.
A Stanford professor conducted an experiment with 4- and 5-year-olds and marshmallows. He put a marshmallow in front of each kid, saying if they waited for 15 minutes, while he was gone, before eating the marshmallow, they could have a second one. If they ate it, that was it. One now, or two in 15 minutes. A few of the children made it and were tracked over the 40-years of this longitudinal study. Not surprisingly, this group had higher SAT scores, lower levels of abuse and obesity and achieved higher levels of overall success in life. The discipline of delayed gratification works.
Many of us as individuals and our society, our government, are eating the marshmallow. The government, which we get to vote on every two years, continues to back away from advocating the delayed gratification that it would take to solve any one of the many the issues facing our nation today.
- National debt, you know, the one we continue to amass and leave to our children and grandchildren. Essentially, we are eating our marshmallow and theirs, leaving them without one. As of the moment, the Federal accounting shows that we owe $21T and it’s mounting fast.
- Part of that debt is the money we owe to support Social Security. Life expectations have increased by at least 15 years since its inception, and we continue to add types of recipient and increase the amount paid to those recipients. Yet instead of fixing it, changing the rules so that it will be solvent and lasting, we continue to kick the can down the road. Afraid of even talking about delayed gratification.
- Another part of why we are broke and getting broker is Medicaid, which has gone from $200B in 2000, to $600B last year. And it, too, is growing rapidly.
- And then there is Medicare. We spent $700B in 2017, and are projected to spend $3T on Medicare alone in 2050. Yet there are calls from seemingly rational people for “Medicare for all!”
- Free College. The national cry for free college and forgiven student loans is mounting. But there is no national conversation about working harder to get scholarships, going to a local community college while working 30 hours a week for those first two years, not going to that expensive dream school. And there are no thoughts or advice about spending 30 minutes on Google to see which schools offer the degrees that will pay enough so the graduate can find a well-paying job and meet their post-school debt obligations. Here, by demanding free college, we eating someone else’s marshmallow.
- Infrastructure. We all know that our roads and bridges are suffering from lack of extensions even proper maintenance. Why aren’t we fixing them?
The politicians believe that if they talk about anything even remotely related to delayed gratification, they won’t get re-elected and their party will suffer. They are right about that, and that’s our fault. They think that because that is how we vote. For example, Social Security is called the electrified “third rail” of American politics, because if you touch it, you will die. And no one ever got re-elected by spending billions of dollars over decades to improve infrastructure; we have trained our politicians they get re-elected by spending those billions on benefits that go directly to us right now. As our infrastructure continues to crumble, they will simply blame it on the other party. And we will let them get away with it.
If we want better candidates, if we want a better government, we need to be better citizens–better voters. We need to lead our self-serving politicians, and the only way to do that is to be less self-serving ourselves. No, I am not talking about sacrifice. Sacrifice is completely walking away from something we want with nothing in return. I am talking about foregoing pieces of what we’d like to have today to get more of what we need tomorrow. What we are doing now is sacrifice; we are sacrificing the future. Delayed gratification is the only way to avoid deep and needless sacrifice
Is it possible that we have gone nuts, that we are unable to do simple math on a piece of scratch paper–or on our phones? Or do we simply not care about the disaster–the empty marshmallow plate–we will be leaving behind?
A few other major issues that we, you and I, as individuals and our elected government, are studiously ignoring.
- Immigration. The fix is straightforward. If you want open borders, ‘fess up and just watch what happens. If not, the first thing we need is a secure border. Then we can use E-verify, follow up on those who overstay their visas, and arrange for some sort of amnesty–yes, amnesty, one last time–for those who are here illegally. And we need to allow a generous number of desired, vetted people, and a smaller number, also vetted, of those who simply need to be here, desired or not. The key is a secure border.
- Public Schools. The clear answer is competition. Indigenous peoples in Alaska know that the wolf packs keep the caribou herds strong by culling the weak. In the same way, charter schools and vouchers will make public schools stronger. No sane parent would choose a charter school or take advantage of a voucher if the local school was strong, and producing good results with its students. They would opt out only from weak schools. And unlike weak caribou, weak schools get a second chance. If parents start opting for other choices in significant numbers, the troubled school has time to improve and strengthen. Unlike a dead caribou. And if the school cannot or will not improve sufficiently, it will close and improve the overall quality of the herd. If this happens repeatedly and over time, there might be fewer public schools. But the remaining will be stronger. Even more importantly, the “herd”, public schools, charters and private schools, collectively serving the students, parents and the community, will be stronger
The point of today’s conversation is not to communicate the exact fixes and solutions; I leave that my other podcasts, your thoughts or a combination. The point is that all of the needed remedies and solutions require delayed gratification. As people and voters, we need to embrace that concept, and let our elected representatives know where we stand and what we expect of them. And talk it up with family and friends. This is not easy, but it is necessary. It is not easy, but it will be more than well worth it.
BTW, does this sound like new, revolutionary thinking? Are you seeing other signs of a possible civil war, even a new revolution, that is headed in the wrong direction? The future direction of Results With Reason will be Revolution 2.0™. Please stand by.
It is time for our usual parting thought. For us at Results With Reason, it is not only change your thinking, change your life. It is change your thinking, change your actions, change the world. And if you can do it in love and enjoy the people around you at the same time, all the better. And if we, you and I, don’t do something, then the others who are doing something, will continue to run the show.
Remember: Knowledge by itself is the booby prize.
Will Luden, writing to you from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.