I start most of my mornings running on the beach, where on occasion I’ll get inspired and go live on video to share thoughts on my social media channels. Sometimes it sparks interesting conversations. Other times it gives tips for how to become a better version of oneself. After all, a dose of inspiration is an ideal way to start the day.
And just as I’m always looking to learn more from others and challenge myself, I’m also passionate about passing on any valuable lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur, investor, first-time father, or any other life experiences!
One of my recent video messages was about a key life lesson I learned as a child – a lesson that profoundly shaped my work ethic and was a key factor in me becoming a self-made millionaire by age 25 and building a global healthy lifestyle brand.
This important life lesson wasn’t taught in school or at a workplace. I didn’t read about it in a book or on a clever meme. I learned it in a place you might least expect.
Yes, the convenience store. The candy aisle in 7-Eleven, to be exact.
When I was in about the 3rd or 4th grade, my mom would every now and then take my sister and I to the 7-Eleven down the street. On rare occasions, (when we were “good!”) she’d let us each select one piece of candy. Anybody who has traveled down the candy aisle knows it is filled with an assortment of everything colors, flavors, caramel, taffy, chocolate and sugar. Lots of sugar.
And although there were iconic candies that any kid with a dollar in their pocket might grab, I had eyes for only one candy. I chose it every single time.
Starburst wasn’t even my favorite candy. But I had a strategic motivation for buying it. Each Starburst was individually packaged, there were 12 of them, and they usually didn’t melt. This all meant that an entire pack of Starburst lasted a lot longer than other candies. Unlike a Snickers bar, for example, that I’d devour in a few seconds, I could suck on Starbursts for longer periods of time. I could opt for different flavors. I could ration out each Starburst and make it last throughout the entire day.
Power of Delayed Gratification
Later on in life, I realized that even at a very young age, I was learning the power of delayed gratification. Eating a Milky Way would give me instant gratification, but then it was gone, and I had done nothing to earn it.
Whether intentional or on accident, I ended up applying that same philosophy of delayed gratification to my academics. Returning home after school, like most kids I’d usually want to watch TV or play outside. But instead I played a game with myself: If I put in an hour of homework, then I’d let myself watch my favorite cartoon. In some cases, it was a longer task; when I finished reading my book, then I would call my friends.
The key was the “If…then” statement. If I did this, then I get this. Over time, as my confidence in being able to complete tasks grew, it then became an even more powerful “When…then” statement. When I finish this, then I’ll reward myself with this.
Delaying gratification to increase my follow-through on commitments was a muscle I started building early in life. In the coming years I would use that as a motivator for me in school and business to work hard, stay focused and increase my productivity… because a self-determined reward awaited me. People often ask how I got through a highly academic University, Cum Laude with multiple degrees in a total of 3 years. I’d have to say learning how to use this self-commitment contract technique to sustain focus over long periods of time was definitely a big part of it.
Why It Matters
Today, with instant gratification literally a button away, it’s difficult not to get distracted with (or addicted to!) activities that bring us momentary pleasure. We receive notifications from dozens of apps that give us immediate feedback or results. On Demand TV lets us watch any show with a click of the remote. Social feeds and Google searches mesmerize us. We can give ourselves gratification anytime, anywhere in the palm of our hand.
Many don’t realize every time you click that button, hear that ding, or see that “like,” it triggers an actual chemical reaction in our body (Dopamine release) that feels good. And we love it. Even crave it. The problem is that while we’re distracted by fleeting moments of gratification, many of us get to the end of the day only to realize that we didn’t accomplish much.
Then we are unfulfilled, or even guilty, that we didn’t make any progress towards our short-term and long-term goals. In fact, although we were busy all day, we didn’t seem to achieve much of anything important. Instead, we settled for a steady stream of a metaphorical candy bar fix and then wondered how all those moments of perceived happiness left us tired with a stomachache.
Building the Muscle
My challenge for you is to take the lesson – I’ll call it the “Starburst Strategy”– that I learned at a young age in the candy aisle at 7-Eleven and apply it to your own life. Condition your thinking with the “If…then” principle until it becomes a habit. Only reward yourself if you’ve achieved something.
Just like a physical muscle, it takes practice and frequency. Start on small levels. For example, if you have a hard time focusing and finishing tasks, put in an hour on a worthwhile activity and then take 10 minutes to do something you like. When you finish your work phone calls, then watch your favorite show. Very simple.
Play the “If…then…” game on a day-to-day level to focus on your tasks. Once you’ve mastered that, take it up a level, and do the same thing for your monthly goals. Once you find yourself constantly achieving your monthly goals, then do the same for your yearly goals. For example, if you lose this amount of weight by next year, you’ll schedule a vacation some place fun! As a bonus, you’ll find yourself much happier having something to work towards and look forward to.
Two lessons from the candy aisle that I still use each and every day:
- Develop the muscle (ability) to delay gratification; in this day and age, it’ll be a challenge since instantaneous distractions and rewards are all around. Decide, focus, and persevere.
- Create rewards for yourself for when you achieve something. And commit to not giving in until you do. The level of reward should match the level of effort it takes for each achievement. Start small, and then work your way up!
I challenge you to start now. In fact, drop by my profile and leave me a comment with your first “If.. then!” statement.
After all, if you train yourself to put sustained focus towards larger, more fulfilling achievements, your life will never end up just being a fist full of empty candy wrappers. J
About the Author: Blake Mallen is an Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Philanthropist, and the Co-Founder & President of ViSalus, a global healthy lifestyle brand. Blake has been featured in industry publications as well as speaks at national conferences and international events on the topics of social marketing, brand building, organizational culture, entrepreneurship, leadership and personal growth. Connect with Blake at https://blakemallen.com/contact/.