May 2, 2021

Pat yourself on the back for delaying gratification

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If the artist doesn’t raise their ability to defer gratification, being prolific is a mathematical impossibility.

This type of patience is a cornerstone to personal creativity management. Go behind the scenes of any successful creator, and you’ll find somebody who doesn’t demand immediate payoffs from their actions.

And yet, the absurd challenge with our species is that human beings have been primed for instant gratification. If we have the audacity to defer instant results, we’re battling millions of years of physiological impulses. Our hormones, egos and reptilian brains will be on high alert, telling us that we should want what we want, when we it want.

To make matters worse, we also live in a world that celebrates impulse. Everybody wants everything for nothing yesterday. Think about it, have you ever seen a reality show about a healthy, patient person putting a moral chain on their own appetites? Worst episode ever. Neilson ratings would plummet faster than a broken cable car.

But that’s our world. It used to be you could get things good, fast and cheap; but now everything is perfect, now and free. Any time we defer immediate payoffs, we are also battling thousands of years sociological impulses. No wonder it’s so hard to be patient.

The good news is, there are tools to help you raise your ability to defer gratification. For example, say you don’t want to do a certain boring task now, or ever, as part of your creative work. Fair enough. We’ve all been there before. My recommendation is a tool called future self, which is when you treat things you do as a compassionate investment in yourself that you recoup later on.

Say you’re reading a book for work that’s boring but necessary. Future self can help. You can tell yourself a story that this information, mundane as it may be in the moment, is repowering your source current, and will pay off somewhere down the road, you might decide not to papercut your wrists. You have to trust that whatever is unsexy gives you leverage.

Okay, here’s another tool for raising your ability to defer gratification.

Have you ever executed consistent creative work that made you proud, and yet, it still got ignored or shelved? Story of my life. It fucking sucks. Makes you question why you even bother making art in the first place. Another tool that can buoy your spirits is called long gaming, aka, the willing to initiate risky projects and be misunderstood for extended periods of time.

Similar to our previous tool, there is absolutely nothing sexy about this mindset. Nobody is going to pat you on the back for delaying gratification. And there is no guarantee that down the road all your hard work will be worth it when you finally sell out for millions of dollars.

But one thing is for sure. Your journey will be less depressing. The mindset of long gaming will help you overcome those day to day feelings of foolishness and apathy in your creative projects. Soon you will learn to find fulfillment with the process even when the finish line isn’t in sight. And that’s worth its weight in gold.

Look, being human is at odds with being a creative professional. Deferring gratification is basically improbable.

It’s not impossible though. Amazon didn’t turn a profit until nine years after being founded and seven years after going public. Now they’re the first trillion dollar company in history.

Talk about putting patience into the storybooks.

What unsexy work today will give you leverage tomorrow?

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