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The Biggest Problem with Instant Gratification in Business

Learn about instant gratification in business, how change actually happens, and the power of celebrating small wins.

The Issues of Instant Gratification in Business Strategy

Summary: Instant Gratification in Business

Learn about instant gratification in business, how change actually happens, and the power of celebrating small wins.

Words of Wisdom

There’s nothing wrong with instant gratification, except that it can’t happen all the time.

One of the last things you want to do is overpromise and underdeliver. You want to be able to overdeliver every single time.

So when we think about instant gratification in business strategy, we need to dial that down a little bit.

We need to consider what’s reasonable. We need to consider what we can do.

— Jen

Read Transcript: Instant Gratification in Business

On today’s show, we talk about instant gratification, how change actually happens, and the power of celebrating small wins. All that and more here on Women Conquer Business.

[music] Hello, and welcome to the Women Conquer Business podcast, featuring discussions with your host Jen McFarland. Every week, I discuss a different aspect of building a business while balancing it with an incredibly busy life. I share experiences, successes and failures, and answer questions submitted by you, the listener. Thanks for tuning in. Let’s get started. [music]

Increasingly, we live in a world that is based on the principle of instant gratification, the need to experience fulfillment without any sort of delay or wait. I do think that this is related to technology in some regard, mostly because of things like Amazon, where you can order products and expect to have them arrive the next day, sometimes, the same day. And even just from the beginning, with the simple two-day shipping for Prime members. It also started before that with McDonald’s where you could get a burger in no time. That’s why we don’t see as many mom-and-pop fast-food restaurants anymore. The idea of instant gratification, it also is happening because we live in an increasingly disruptive environment, right? So not only do we have businesses that are setting things up, like self-checkout and different types of things to make things easier, visualizing what your wall is going to look like with a certain paint color. All these things make it so that we can see things right away and that just enhances our desire for things that give us the instant gratification.

But it’s also just that we live in a disruptive world. You don’t know what’s going to happen from day-to-day. The news is on this crazy 24-hour cycle. People’s thoughts and feelings seemed to be swayed by social media. And if you’re a business owner, you’re living in this world of complete flux where you just don’t know maybe where the money’s coming from the next day or maybe you’ve put together all of your business plans and you’re expecting something to happen quicker than is actually feasible because instant gratification works if you are a multibillion-dollar company, like Amazon, but it doesn’t work if you’re a mom-and-pop or a solopreneur or a local small business owner. You can only deliver so much and meet so many expectations, and if you continue to raise the bar, sometimes you’re raising it too high or too much in any one direction and that’s because people expect the same instant gratification from you that they get from a multinational Fortune 500 company. Not to mention that even as small business owners, we ourselves expect a little bit of instant gratification.

There’s nothing wrong with instant gratification, except that it can’t happen all the time. It can’t be the social norm. It can’t be the expectation that you have. And it can’t be the expectation that your customers have because, sometimes, it’s not reasonable and it means that you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself to deliver on something and avoid delays when you may not have the capacity to do that. So you might be putting a lot of unintentional stress on yourself and putting expectations on so your customers will have certain expectations of you that maybe are unreasonable. And one of the last things that you want to do is underdeliver, overpromise and underdeliver. You want to be able to overdeliver every single time. So when we think about instant gratification, we need to dial that down a little bit. We need to consider what’s reasonable. We need to consider what we can do. We need to consider what our colleagues can do, how we can deliver. And we need to, I think, sometimes, realize that all of this uncertainty, this world where we live in, where we’re living in a world of constant change, sometimes, being impulsive and jumping on things and wanting something to just help us immediately, sometimes that’s not the solution. Sometimes, that isn’t what’s actually going to raise the bar and make us better. In fact, sometimes being impulsive is a worse decision. I can’t tell you when because I don’t know what decisions you’re making, but I think that there has to be a certain level of trust. And I think it’s very difficult in a place where so much is unknown and so much is changing. We don’t live, thankfully, in the 1800s or the 1700s or even the 1950s where, honestly, there was relatively little change from day to day relative to now. You couldn’t imagine ordering a package on the internet. None of that stuff existed. It was a time before electricity. All of these things that we take for granted now are also disruptions to our lives. And sometimes, taking a pause and not expecting something instantly is the way to go. And let me tell you why.

The most important reason why we have to consider instant gratification sometimes as a liability rather than an asset is that’s really not how change works. As leaders, we are often faced with needing to make quick decisions. We’re looking for that quick fix. We’re looking for that thing that is going to solve everything, that panacea that’s going to tell us everything’s okay. But oftentimes, the quick fixes are a lot different than what it takes to be successful over the long haul. A quick fix is more like a bandaid. A quick fix is instant gratification. A quick fix is like going out and getting a sundae instead of setting up an exercise plan that will help your overall health. I mean, I like a good hot fudge sundae. But having one every day isn’t actually going to help me achieve my long-term goals. I mean, it’ll taste good, but my long-term goals are different than that. I don’t want to spend seven bucks a day on a good hot fudge sundae. I want to exercise and lead a longer, more healthful life. And eating ice cream every day isn’t going to get me there, as an example.

But when we take it into the business context, things get a little more tricky, right? We want to make money yesterday. We don’t want to make money today or tomorrow. And we see this so many times, right? We don’t want to wait. We want success today. So I want to share with you – I just recently read this – a French parabole about growth and about how you can look at growth and change in success and nature and how that is a way of looking at change within your own business. And I want you to consider this the next time that you reach for the quick fix, the next time that you want to abandon what you’ve been working toward for days, weeks, or months. Because oftentimes, right before things get hard or things get really hard before the explosive growth is going to happen or the shiny object comes along and you want to abandon the ship and go do something different. Oftentimes, we are drawn away right at the precise moment when you’re going to see the most success. So let me just share this with you because I think it’s really important.

So we’ve all seen a lily pond and how a lily can actually– the plant itself can cover the entire pond. So a lily will double in size every day. So if the whole pond is covered in 30 days, how much do you think is covered in 15 days. I mean, that’s halfway through the cycle. If change were a linear thing, you’d expect to be halfway up the staircase. It would expect the lily to cover half of the pond in 15 days, wouldn’t you? I mean, that’s what we expect in life too, right? I put one step in front of the other. I chain together several successes. I should have this big change, right? But change doesn’t work that way. 15 days of the lily doubling in size means that the pond is only covering point– or the lily only covers [0.0025%?] of the pond in 15 days. That’s less than 1% by a wide margin. You might not even notice any growth of the lily for 15 days. For 15 days. So when is half of the pond covered? On day 29. On day 29, half of the pond is covered with that lily, and it doubles in size on day 30. And the pond is covered.

And see, exponential growth is the same way, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because we all live in this world where inasmuch we’re looking for that instant gratification, inasmuch as we feel disrupted and disconnected and uncertain, inasmuch as we feel those things and experience those things, the reality is so many of our decisions are related. So many things can be connected. So much happens. And it either adds to your growth or it takes away from your growth. And that can be whether you’re a human or in the business context. See, there’s no such thing as an overnight success. There’s no such thing as change occurring on a linear process, on a staircase. You might work really hard for 29 days and say, “Man, this isn’t going to work.” And bail out the night before it’s going to work. And it’s going to explode.

See, because the problem that we have as business owners is things like instant gratification rather than stay in the course is that we’re looking for that quick fix instead of celebrating the small wins that we get along the way. See, I’m not saying to just blindly follow the same path into oblivion. If things aren’t working, you’re going to have things along the way that tell you, one way or the other, if things are working or not working. Hopefully, you’re asking for things like customer feedback or testimonials that are going to tell you what’s going on with your clients and your customers you’re going to do things in your personal life that are going to tell you one way or another if you’re on the right track. They may not be reaching all the way to that goal, but there are things that happen every single day that tell you whether or not things are getting better. And sometimes, the things that we need to celebrate more than anything are those small wins, those small times that tell us life is getting better, your life is changing. And that’s why having goals and checking in on those goals, sometimes every day, so that you can have small wins and small celebrations, and that is what keeps you from reaching for the quick fix. That’s what keeps you from reaching for the big sale or the shiny object that tells you everything is going to be okay. Because you’re looking at everything, every day. You’re looking and you’re evaluating your personal or professional landscape, and you’re telling yourself, and you’re seeing the information, the data, that’s telling you, “You got this, man. You got this. Keep going.”

I think the thing that gets lost is there is a lack of celebrating your every day, the small wins. You see, it’s really important in order to manage expectations and in order to keep going on your path if you’re looking at things on a constant basis and if you’re celebrating those wins. I know people who put things on their calendar to remind themselves to practice self-care and take breaks. Why don’t we put things on our calendar to remind ourselves of the small wins that we’re having? You see, when we have celebrations in mind when we set a goal, those celebrations sometimes reinforce why we set the goal in the first place. It reminds us of the path and it helps build momentum among all the people who were around us. I think that by breaking down these larger, bigger, kind of big hairy goals into smaller goals, when you break them down into those small goals and you reward yourself for achieving small goals, it helps you to put less pressure on yourself, and it helps you to feel like, “I’m on the right track and everything is going to be okay.” Because everything is going to be okay.

When you track your progress and you consider how you’re changing your perspective and how you’re changing your world, you feel less inclined to be impulsive, you feel less inclined to be emotional and reach for things that don’t serve you when you’re keeping in mind your goals and tracking your progress and changing your perspective a little bit each day, when it comes down to am I doing good and how is life going and am I reaching my goals and am I going to get there. So I think we should all put a little bit of time and energy into celebrating wins. I think that one of the things that I started doing that is just so amazing and so good is sometimes I make lists just so that I can cross things off. That’s right. I make a list and some of the things are already done so I can cross them off. And do you how good it feels to cross things off of a list? It doesn’t feel as good when you’re keeping a mental list or a mental track. Do the things that you need to do to feel good about the progress that you’re making because achieving change, achieving your goals is not a linear process. And the more you can look at it for what it is, which is a mess, but something that happens slowly over time and then exponentially grows sometimes at a massive level, that’s how change actually happens. But if you’re tracking these small wins and celebrating them and taking time and not just grinding yourself up in the hustle, then you’re positioning yourself and grounding yourself in what’s about to happen, which is something pretty dang amazing. Thanks for listening.

[music] Thank you for listening to the Women Conquer Business Podcast. You can find us online at You can also connect with Jen on social media at [Jen S. McFarland?], on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. This show is produced in Portland, Oregon by Jen McFarland Consulting. Women Conquer Business is available on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and many other podcast apps. [music]

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