The Delayed Gratification Trap

Are you stuck in the Marshmallow Experiment? Medical education and training can deliver rewards and satisfaction in terms of achievement, increasing competency and patient interaction, but it is also an exercise in significant sacrifice and delayed gratification. Such things as time, money, relationships, leisure activities are put on hold in service of becoming and growing as a physician. Going forward the challenge becomes how to bring a mindset oriented largely towards the future into balance with one oriented towards the present. An initial default may be towards the purchase of material goods, which certainly have their place. However, this may actually serve as a distraction from doing the hard and necessary work of examining how we need and want to prioritize and direct our time and emotional energy towards our values and aspirations In fact, after years of sacrificing in the service of others, it may seem “selfish” to invest in our own well-being. It is tempting and understandable to hope and expect that our organization’s leadership will acknowledge and recognize our value and sacrifice. Even if this is the case, not engaging in your own self-advocacy is a fragile and naïve proposition. 

Phil Zambardo, a psychologist and past president of the American Psychological Association, developed a model known as Time Perspective Therapy. He found through decades of research that the happiest and most fulfilled individuals have learnt to balance Present-Hedonism with Future-Orientation. By developing a flow mentality, they create a middle way that creates the best of both worlds.

Ask yourself if your blueprint for your current life needs an active intervention to redress your balance between delaying joy and fulfillment for the future and living with joy and fulfillment in the present.

“We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.” 

– Thich Nhat Hanh

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