Episode 60. Deferred Gratification and Task-Oriented Thinking

Jun 12, 2017 | 0 comments

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Show Notes

You have a big, long-term goal that will take time. You can’t do it all at once. You can only do what you can do right now. So, how do you do that? Since Mike recently finished a long process of completing his PhD, we figured we’d talk about deferred gratification and task-oriented thinking in the face of those long-term goals that can seem overwhelming if you try to think about the whole thing.

Task-Oriented Thinking

  • “Ready, Fire, Aim!”
  • There’s a degree to which not knowing exactly what will be involved is a good thing, because if you could/can really imagine what it will take, you’d feel overwhelmed. But hey, once you’re 40% in, might as well dig your heels in and keep going!
  • There’s a lot of ebb and flow to your energy levels on an absolute level, but this is ALSO true to the various domains in your life. Brain is fried from X? You may not need to take an absolute break because you might be able to work on something else that uses your brain or body in a totally different way (physical vs. mental, logical vs. creative, etc.)
  • There’s a danger in fitness because they’ll lie to you. If you want to do a PhD and you walk in and say “I want to do it in two years!” you’ll just be told to get lost. Do that in fitness? Even if it is something that will take multiple years, there will be plenty of snake oil salesmen promising you, yeah, sure, you wanna do it in two months? No problemo!

Deferred Gratification: “The ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward in order to wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.”


  • The Stanford Marshmellow Stud(ies) (LINK – it has its own wikipedia page!). These were done by professor Walter Mischel on children who had to resist instant gratification to get a higher-value reward. The wiki page has a lot of links to the actual studies, as well as to some of the follow-up studies years later.
  • A good complement to a wikipedia page on them is Roy Baumeister and John Tierney’s Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
  • Scott told a story of just being overwhelmed in his first year at university. The idea of doing all these things: worrying about this year, next year, the eventual thesis he’s supposed to do, etc.. Finally, a prof took him out for lunch and explained what boils down task-oriented thinking.
  • At the same time, of course, you still should see the forest for the trees: if you don’t look ahead at all you’ll end up on a path to nowhere.
  • Mike like’s Stephen Covey’s habit “begin with the end in mind,” (from his 7 Habits book) where you literally think about your funeral, which almost instantly answers: are you doing things right now that will lead to that?
  • Both Scott and Mike mentioned instances of profs or figures they respected giving them some kind of challenge or reinforcement at pivotal times. But what about if you haven’t had that yet? What do you do? It can seem hard if you don’t know if/when such help will enter your life. For Scott, the answer is the application of task-oriented and useful thinking to the PAST. See small wins AS wins. When you overcome an obstacle, even if it’s small, acknowledge it, and BUILD on it.


Links & Resources

The Stanford Marshmellow Studies

Scott’s free book, The Mindset of Achievement