A Deal With the Devil

Posted in Blog
29/06/2020 Mduduzi Luthuli

Faustian Bargain: A man once sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge. At first, it seemed like a smart trade. But the man lost in the long run. Tragically, what the man lost was more valuable than what he earned. In short, he won the battle but lost the war. 

We all have a ‘future self’ and we’re very optimistic about its behaviour. Millions of people are in debt because they confidently told themselves that they could borrow now, and their future-self would pay it off later. It’s a predictable behaviour that credit card companies rely on.

Have you ever gone to bed thinking that you’ll go to the gym in the morning? You’re convinced that ‘future you’ will be up-and-at-them. Then you wake up and that vision seems utterly ridiculous. Why the hell would you leave bed? Bed is warm. You can go to the gym tomorrow.

You’ll definitely go tomorrow………….

As with most things, we can blame this behaviour on evolution. Instant gratification exists because our cavemen ancestors had to grab resources as soon as they found them, in order to survive. According to research from Princeton University, there are two parts of our brain that are basically fighting each other when it comes to decisions.

The emotional part of your brain values what feels good in the moment; the logical part wants to resist impulse in favour of long-term rewards.

I’m writing this on a Sunday. I don’t have to do it; I could go watch some Netflix, or pander to my smart phone or any other piece of technology that has been designed to exploit our instant gratification. I constantly have to battle against this short-term pleasure in expectation of the long-term rewards (that aren’t even certain! Is anyone even reading this?).

The internet is awash with dead blogs and abandoned YouTube channels. The average podcast lasts just seven episodes before the host gives up. I’ve fallen victim to this and hopefully will one day revive my podcast…I think, or atleast I hope.

Too many of us expect our projects to be successful overnight. We want a ‘big break’, a sudden influx of followers and attention. We want the rewards without the work. We want instant gratification, and 3 retweets or 15 likes just doesn’t cut it after the first few weeks for most people, and so they give up.

No matter how developed we become, there are still the cavemen like tendencies built into our psychological functioning. Our brains are wired to prioritise short-term needs over long-term goals.  The brain responds to short-term desires of satisfaction by releasing dopamine, a pleasure hormone that we crave more and more of. 

This chemical reaction combined with the loss of patience due to having anything and everything at our fingertips has created a perfect formula for addictive tendencies and poor impulse control.  The inability to control impulses leads to short term pleasure and reduces the ability to reach your highest potential.

When you do give in to instant gratification for something, spend time reflecting on how it made you feel and whether you want to make decisions that way in the future. This idea of waiting years to reap the spoils of your hard work (retirement planning) is certainly a sound one, but one that few follow. Embracing the waiting game is challenging when you’re in the midst of the waiting.

If willpower was purely genetic, almost everyone would be obese, unsuccessful drug addicts. Luckily it’s not and our ability to delay gratification can be conditioned. This requires embracing “boredom”, the most important emotion in wealth creation.

One day you will grow old and will reap the fruits of the decisions made today and over your lifetime. Less than 4% of working South Africans CANNOT afford to maintain their standard of living when retired. Most win the battle but lose the war. 

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Any fool can know. The point is to understand - Albert Einstein