Can you sacrifice temporary pleasure for longterm goals?

We know what we need to do to reach our goals. But we still aren’t doing it. We’re checking our email 50 times a day. We’re browsing the web without any particular purpose. We’re watching TV or a movie or playing video games or chatting with friends. We’re doing any of the dozens of things we do to avoid constructive effort.

We do this because these activities are more enjoyable than work. They’re easy and there is no risk of failure. You don’t have to perform when surfing the web. You just enjoy the ride. Who knows, maybe you’ll even learn something valuable.

But probably not.

These activities are intentional time wasters; things we do to make the day go faster. Because working is a pain. Who ever knows if it will pay off? There is so much uncertainty. If we aren’t going about it the right way all our work will be wasted anyways.

It’s easy to make excuses for why it doesn’t matter. It’s easy to waste time, to succumb to temptation. As I write this, I have constant urges to check my email, to open up GoogleReader, or check out today’s traffic stats.

Nothing really constructive comes from these activities, but they’re easier than trying to coherently express my thoughts. They’re things that I rely on, things that I do when I don’t want to work.

Wasting time is addictive. The more you do it, the more excuses you make so you can keep doing it.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I spend my time and what it takes to succeed. As I analyze my actions, I realize that I’m constantly making decisions that hinder my success. We become so habituated to wasting time, to passing the day, that we forget that it’s a conscious choice.

But realizing this also makes me optimistic. Recognizing a weakness is the first step to eliminating it. It makes me understand, every time I’m tempted by one of my favorite time wasters, that I’m only hurting myself. And suddenly that temptation isn’t as strong as it was before.

The skill I need to master is the ability to delay gratification. This means resisting short term pleasures in favor of a longterm goal. If you can’t resist short term pleasures, you won’t do the work that needs to get done.

It isn’t easy. Most of us are stuck in bad habits that we don’t even recognize. You need to think about what you really want. Are you willing to sacrifice your biggest dreams for temporary satisfaction?

I’m not.

From this point forward I’ll be making a concerted effort to delay gratification and work towards longterm goals. It will be less comfortable, but knowing that I’m doing everything I can to succeed will easily outweigh the sacrifice.

66 Responses to Can you sacrifice temporary pleasure for longterm goals?

  1. ab says:

    It is an interesting subject. For me it is about controlling my habits, and habits are triggered by environment.

    I visited the place where I used to live 5 years ago. Alot of things triggered in me, mindsets, memories, thoughtstreams. It is almost as if I become the person I used to be when I lived there.

    As I walk home from work I have alot of things on my mind that I want to do, yet as I step through the door I get stuck in my usual routine, watch TV, check computer, etc.

    When we change locations or move around furniture, etc etc, we should take the great opportunity to also change our habits. Or maybe just make sure we don’t keep so many items that trigger our (bad) habits.

    Changing habits is rather difficult, but being aware of them is at least a first step.

  2. What a generalization! There are so many ‘we’s in this posting it sounds like a heard of piglets (try saying we, we, wee over and over).

    How about a few “I” statements and ownership here.

    I waste time on the web when I am demotivated and want to avoid doing something that I don’t find rewarding.

    But on the same token I am doing research via my reader in preparation for my career change and that, most certainly, is not wasted time.

    So please don’t generalize and assume your own habits are everyone else’s. Please respect we’re all individuals.

  3. John Wesley says:

    I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything David. If you don’t have a problem with wasting time then this article doesn’t apply to you.

  4. Frank says:

    Great post.

    I recognized myself in it. The weird part is that I know all of this… but somehow there are times where I still find ways to avoid the things I have to do to reach my goals. I think it’s a common problem. Like you said, being aware of the situation is a good sign. Next step is taking action. Being pro-active day after day is what I’m aiming for. Oh and I like ab’s comment about changing location. Very true

  5. Fabián Sepúlveda says:

    I never had made public my greatfulness, and now i want to do it.
    You are a good reference point, a good pattern to imitate when i wish to write something valuable. In all the site that i visit every day, this is one of the best, only for one reason: content. All you content is rather value and i want to congratulate for this. Is the least that i can do for now.
    Salute, and like always, this is a great post.

  6. Fabián Sepúlveda says:

    By the way, if someone see any mistake in my expression, don’t doubt in tell me please. Is the better way to improve my english.

  7. Chee Kui says:

    Hi John!

    I think learning to discipline ourself and focus on doing the things that we need to do is an ongoing process.

    I have this problem too. But I always remind myself everytime when I delay my job.. what would happen if I don’t differentiate the priorities in my life….

    p/a: Yea, wasting time is addictive. lol!

  8. John Wesley says:


    I don’t know what to say. Thanks for your kind words. Although I can’t take much credit for it. I just write about things that are important to me, things I think about.


    I think most of us are very at making excuses for ourselves. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this; to create a public record and hold myself accountable.


    Self discipline is certainly an ongoing process. Hopefully it gets easier with practice.

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  10. Aguimar says:

    I have the same problems too. Im my case, i waste time like this when i´m not interested in what i´m doing, in other words, when i´m at work. It´s impossible not to procastinate tasks when you´re completely not motivated in doing it.

    Oh, life !

  11. Hilda says:

    Interesting post, and so on the ball! I wouldn’t say I engage in these activities to intentionally waste time and pass the day, but they certainly are major distractions and interfere with my productivity because I struggle with delaying the gratification as you put it.

    Must do better in future!!

  12. Leo says:

    Excellent post, John, and very thoughtful as usual. That’s one thing I appreciate about your posts — you have the courage to step back and get a little perspective, and challenge us to do the same. While Dave’s right, that not everyone procrastinates in this way, I think it’s a fair point that millions of people do, and that it’s something that should be given consideration. Keep up the great work!

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  15. Quincy says:

    Wasting time is a bad habit, but unfortunately it’s sometime we all like to do. Nothing feels better (even though it’s not true) than spending a whole day surfing the net, reading e-mail, etc. Doing nothing. The only way I can start working is when I feel a deadline approaching…Maybe we all need deadlines every day…But then there’s the risk of too much stress…
    So what’s the solution then? Maybe it’s yours. :)

  16. Pamela says:

    I think it’s only proper to take a break once in a while from work to prevent stress, but it’s definitely not good to do it very often. Watching TV, chatting with friends, etc. is our means of entertainment and I don’t think it’s a waste of time, except if we do it during working hours or if there are other important things to be done.

  17. Alan says:

    I agree with Pamela. If we take away our means of enjoyment and focus with our long term goals, stress is probably the only thing that will keep us from attaining that goal.

  18. John Wesley says:

    I never meant to say you should avoid all enjoyment for the sake of productivity. I think that if you focus yourself as much as possible — when you are trying to work — you will have even more time for leisure.

    The problem is when we should be working but are actually procrastinating. This isn’t really that enjoyable, but for some reason it’s very tempting. At least for me, I have no idea how others work.

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  22. Fran says:

    I agree. We easily fall for that trick. We are unaware that our time is being wasted. There are other useful things that can keep us busy and at the same time it can be entertaining.

  23. Miguel Angel says:

    John, your post shock me. I was browsing using Stumble when I landed in your post. I most to say the same as Frank: “I recognized myself in it”.
    Thank you very much. You post save me a psychoanalysis session.
    And I agree, “Recognizing a weakness is the first step to eliminating it”

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  25. Dan says:

    That’s something I’m definatey quilty of and hadn’t realised until reading this post, so I guess I’ll join you in trying to realise when I’m doing it and if it’s at a time I shouldn’t be, stop. Unfortunately that time is now so ta ta for now.

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  28. Wilson says:

    What if my long term goal is to become a professional web surfer-TV watcher-video game player? Every day I’m one step closer.




    think about it what a sad thing that you are sorry for pleasure

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  33. Molly says:

    Thank you for this post. My summer (I’m a student) has been mediocre to say the best; I haven’t been very productive. Now it’s out in the open, and now I understand. I can change!

    @ Fabián: your English is great, but there are a few errors and I wanted to help you out…

    “I have never publicly expressed my gratefulness, but now I want to do it.
    You are a good reference point–a good example to follow when I wish to write something valuable. Of all the sites that I visit everyday, this is one of the best, and all for one reason: content. All your content is rather valuable, and I want to congratulate for this. This is the least that I can do for now.
    Salute, and like always, this is a great post.

    By the way, if anyone sees any mistakes in my English, please don’t hesitate to tell me. It is a better way to improve my English.”

  34. phoenix says:

    @ John: Brilliant! Good work, John. I’m a student and I can identify myself quite well with this article. You articulated wonderfully the very many thoughts that go on inside my head all the time, every day.

    @ Molly: I really like the way you took your time out to correct the errors. Your english seems to be great! Where are you from?

    – Please don’t take it as an offense that I asked about you. I’m new and unaware of the etiquettes here in these sort of discussions.

  35. FIAR says:


    Haha. I checked my email in between opening this link, and reading the post. I know that when I intend to get some work done, I need to shut things out and just do the work. I just need to make the effort. I guess I’m addicted.

    The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

    My name is Fiar, and I’m addicted to wasting time.


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  37. S says:

    We’re browsing the web without any particular purpose.

    f you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates!


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  39. cha says:

    interesting post. i’ve been in college for seven years now and my graduation is coming next month. most of my friends finished their studies in four years but i got stuck with short time pleasures that i didn’t prioritize on my studies. hanging out with friends, chat online, play video game consoles, and soccer. it’s funny how i am aware that these things will slow me down but i kept on doing it. paper deadlines and make up tests can wait but liverpool versus manchester united can’t.

    i’ve always understood that if i don’t graduate i’ll have a hard time getting a job. i live in rural indonesia and here even college graduates have a tough time getting jobs, i can’t imagine what i’d do without a degree. but still everytime the urge for this short term pleasure comes i just find it hard to resist. what i did to overcome the problem was to create stickers which had “graduate or bum!!!” printed on them. i placed these little reminders on my soccer ball, videogame console pad, monitor of my pc, my cellphone, and my tv. i also hung a huge poster on my room with the same print. it worked and i’ve finished all my graduation requirements last week, things i’ve always thought to be boring.

    i think for a short term solution the little reminders might help battle the habits but i feel it will lose it’s powers after a while. i hope we can think of better solutions for this problem because i think it’s really common and while your post (it’s a good post) opens eyes Wesley, it’s not enough to solve it.

  40. sanjeev ailawadi says:

    contentment is always nearby it is difficult not to find it be happy enjoy life

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  44. aceblade says:

    It makes a lot of sense to me.
    …I do is almost every day.
    Thanks for the post.

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  47. Luky John says:

    Thanx author. Great article..I helped me a lot regarding self improement…I have found few more
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  48. Ramu Radhakrishnan says:

    This is a very good post. I got this article from google when I search “how to take work pressure as pleasure”. but this article appeals me very much – because I am on of those. But since this is a 3 year old post, I would really like to know if you are able to change yourself during the last 3 years.

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  50. The best way I found to save time and being efficient is to start your day by producing results. In my case its putting up 2-3 product review pages on my site before checking emails or replies from people and workers.

    It is always very tempting to begin with things which are pleasurable, but to get results you really have to kick it out and win yourself with less comfortable tasks.

  51. prom gowns says:

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  52. anup says:

    i am really have bad habbit of this procastination it really hard to chose between a pleasure and a pain lot of self descipline is required and i am really struggling to get rid of this ….that’s life….

  53. Cinz says:

    Yep, I definitely agree with you there. I’m struggling to overcome those wasteful urges and just be productive. At the end of the day, you have your goals and know what you want to achieve. Its a matter of being consistent, working hard, working smart and taking the risk.

  54. This really answered my downside, thanks!

  55. W says:

    Great post. We should learn the “Pain and Pleasure” principle.

    Everything we do or not do is always controlled by this two forces:

    desire to achieve HAPPINESS and PLEASURE
    desire to avoid PAIN and DISCOMFORT

    If we switch the forces and put them where they should be, looking at the big picture, we can control our behavior.

  56. steamcleaner says:

    This is a very good post. I got this article from google when I search “how to take work pressure as pleasure”. but this article appeals me very much – because I am on of those. But since this is a 3 year old post, I would really like to know if you are able to change yourself during the last 3 years.

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  58. Rishan says:

    hi guys, im really stuck… do you think saving your money for future is ”sacrifice”????

  59. Swathy says:


  60. Anonymous says:

    how does a project get delayed 1 year? 1 day at a time.

    In my opinion, we have all the information we need to succeed. But many of us don’t do it, because it’s too hard!

  61. Andre says:

    Great article – truer words were never written. People get so used to their habits – it becomes second nature. Unless you actively think about what you want, what your doing and plan out activities that are important to you – you’ll more or less ‘float’ in other words you’ll be controlled by your habits and basically respond to things as they happen – that’s my 2 cents anyway.

    While googling around on this topic – I found another great article with a method of taking control of your habits or at least changing them. I’m in the process of trying it now for myself. Will post back if it’s useful.

    Anyone interested can find it here:

  62. Camelback1 says:

    Fighting the good fight

  63. Royan Naimi says:

    great artickle. How nice it is

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