There is one quality in particular that leads to greater success in life…
The ability to favor longer-term goals over short-term pleasure.
People who have a strong capacity for delaying gratification tend to be more successful academically and professionally, earn higher incomes, have better relationships, and are less likely to engage in criminal behavior or destructive personal habits.
And this ability is tested all the time as we make subtle day-to-day decisions.
Do I spend this next hour focused on my work project or scrolling through social media?
Do I go to a party or stay home and work on a hobby?
Do I get a workout in or sleep in?
Do I make the effort to spend quality time with my spouse or allow myself to get distracted with other things?
Luckily, there is a way to deliberately grow this quality in ourselves.
After 40 years as a teacher, spouse, family therapist, and life coach (across many different cultures at that), I’ve found that it comes down to answering one simple question…
What will you be proud of tomorrow?
We all have choices to make each day.
Too often we put our short-term impulses up against an abstract goal that feels too far off in the future.
Those distant goals are no match for the pure emotional pull of our short-term impulses toward pleasure (or away from pain). That future self is too far away to help make a meaningful decision today.
That’s why this question is so powerful. We’re not imagining years or decades from now; we’re imagining tomorrow – a single night’s sleep away.
Tomorrow we’re pretty much the same person as we are today. The same feelings, experiences, hopes and dreams. So if we can imagine how we’ll likely feel tomorrow having made one choice or the other, we should be able to discern a clear difference between the two.
If we imagine which choice will bring us more positive emotions come sunrise the next day – including a healthy sense of pride in having made the right choice – that emotional clarity can help us make the best decision for the long term.
Thinking about this question also gives us an emotional window into our deeper values and priorities. It helps connect us to the kind of person we want to be.
Every life is a story. One filled with triumphs, regrets, comedy, tragedy, pride, and disappointment. The clearer we are about the kind of person we want to be – and the more effective we can be when we frame our choices – the more likely we’ll be to choose the kind of words and deeds that reflect the kind of person we want to be.
Sure, you may still choose that double-bacon cheeseburger from time to time. But by keeping this question in mind, the larger patterns of your life will move you in the direction you ultimately want for yourself.
[Editor’s Note: Joel currently has some openings available for life coaching. Go here to sign up for a free 30-minute initial conversation.]