Episode: Better Things Come to Those Who Wait
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Michael Hyatt: We live in an instant culture. Amazon delivers same day. We can consume almost any media with a click, and algorithms serve up what we want before we know we want it. But when everything comes fast and easy we risk underdeveloping one key leadership skill.
Many economists predicted a down economy after World War II. Instead, we experienced an economic boom unlike anything before. As affluence spread, so did consumerism and the technology to propel it, creating a culture of instant gratification and self-indulgence. Patience became a passé virtue, and unfortunately, that could be costing leaders more than they realize. It reminds me of Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here?
[End of video]
Michael Hyatt: No, not really. Many of us don’t. If we’re too used to things coming fast and easy, we can miss out on things that take patience and persistence. And let’s be honest. That’s most of the significant things in life. Even worse, we miss out on becoming the kind of leaders that only patience and persistence can develop. What do I mean? Well, think about marshmallows.
Ray Stantz: I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood, something that could never, ever possibly destroy us: Mr. Stay Puft.
[End of video]
Michael Hyatt: The famous Stanford marshmallow experiment measured the effects of willpower in young children. Kids were given the option of taking one marshmallow immediately versus waiting up to 20 minutes and getting two marshmallows. Some kids saw the benefit to waiting and getting more. Others figured they had a perfectly good marshmallow in front of them, thank you very much, and popped it in their mouths without a second thought.
You might think that’s no big deal. It’s just a marshmallow after all. But psychologist Walter Mischel thought it might be significant, so he followed up with those same kids as adults. What he found was a lot bigger than one or two chewy treats. Mischel shared findings decades later in a book appropriately titled The Marshmallow Test.
Those preschoolers weren’t just waiting around for another marshmallow, he explained. In fact, he said, how they did or didn’t manage to delay gratification unexpectedly turned out to predict much about their future lives. The more seconds they waited at ages 4 or 5, the higher their SAT scores and the better rated their social and cognitive functions were in adolescence. And there’s more.
At age 27 to 32, he said, those who had waited longer during the marshmallow test in preschool had a lower body mass index and a better sense of self-worth, pursued their goals more effectively, and coped more adaptively with frustration and stress. More interesting is that Mischel discovered the kids who wait for the second marshmallow don’t magically possess more willpower than the others. The difference is that the successful kids are able to boost their frustration tolerance.
Mischel saw a wide array of delay tactics from the children trying to hold out for that second marshmallow. They looked away from the marshmallow. They got as far away from it as they could. They made up songs. They made funny faces. They tried to take a nap. They listed out loud the benefits of waiting. They cleaned out ear wax with a finger and focused on that. Yuck.
Here’s why that experiment matters for leaders today. The kids with higher frustration tolerance got much greater returns for their temporary self-denial than they could have ever predicted, along with that second marshmallow. Today’s culture of immediate gratification tells us “Go for that first marshmallow right now.” And we can, but there’s a big difference between can and should.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.
[End of video]
Michael Hyatt: In a world of instant gratification, that’s a concern for all of us.
Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt, and this is Lead to Win, my weekly podcast designed to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode, we’re going to explore the unpopular value of self-denial. I’m here with my cohost, COO of Michael Hyatt & Company and my eldest daughter, Megan Hyatt Miller. Thanks for joining me, Megan.
Megan: Hey, Dad. It’s great to be here with you today.
Michael: I’m excited about this topic.
Megan: As you mentioned, Dad, our topic today is self-denial. But can I be honest for a minute?
Megan: I really hate that term.
Megan: I do. First of all, it’s the least sexy leadership term of all time.
Michael: Okay. You’re probably right.
Megan: So we’re going to go with frustration tolerance, because I think that sounds much more psychologically elevated or something. Because that’s really what we’re saying. Right? We’re talking about the ability to tolerate the discomfort that comes from not taking the quick win or the easy way out.
Michael: Right. It is the same thing as self-denial, but you’re right. It’s a little more sexy.
Megan: We mentioned the delay tactics of the marshmallow kids. Unfortunately, I don’t really see those working here. I mean, singing, ear wax. I can see my kids doing that…
Michael: You’re probably right about that.
Megan: …but I don’t really think that would work in leadership. The good news is we have three other practices to help us develop our frustration tolerance. Are you ready to unpack those?
Michael: Yep. Okay, the first practice is to control your attention. It’s really about…Can we say no to distractions so we can say yes to our most important priorities? This is really difficult given the state of modern technology. We’re pulled in every possible way every few minutes, sometimes every few seconds, to answer this message, check that account. There are a bazillion things that are competing for our attention at any one time, and it’s really distraction masquerading as multitasking.
Megan: That’s so true.
Michael: As Herbert Simon, a Carnegie Mellon professor of computer science and psychology, once said, information consumes the attention of its recipients, and a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. That’s what we have today: a poverty of attention.
Megan: Absolutely true. Okay, there are three major results of distraction we want to discuss here today. First, distraction costs us. The research says our brains don’t actually multitask; they just switch between tasks. We lose momentum and efficiency every time we switch. We feel this intuitively, don’t we? It’s like you try to go from one thing to the next, and you feel almost disoriented and just out of sorts.
Michael: Yeah, and it takes you a while to get back into the next task, and you feel like your focus is everywhere and nowhere.
Megan: Absolutely. In fact, the University of London says that workers distracted by emails and phone calls suffer a fall in their IQs that is twice that found in marijuana smokers.
Michael: That’s crazy.
Megan: What? One study by the University of California at Irvine found office workers took an average of 25 minutes to resume a task after an interruption like an email or a phone call. That’s almost half an hour.
Michael: It’s a huge amount of time, but if you think back or reflect on your own practice, it’s true. You get interrupted, and it just takes a while to get back into the next thing.
Megan: Well, how often have you come back at the end of the day or from a meeting and realized you have a half-written email or a half-written message or something you started, got interrupted, and completely forgot to go back to? It’s disorienting.
Michael: On some days, it may take you an entire day to get that email message written because you’re constantly being interrupted.
Megan: No doubt. Cal Newport refers to this phenomenon as attention residue. Listen to what he has to say about it.
Cal Newport: Attention residue is arguably one of the most important effects that knowledge workers should know about but do not. It’s actually really simple to replicate in the lab. What happens is with attention residue is that if you are focused on one task, and then you switch your attention to another task—even if only briefly—when you come back to the original task, there is a residue left in your brain. And this residue reduces your cognitive performance and can take a long time to actually clear out—5,10,15 even 20 minutes until you’re back to your original cognitive capacity.
So this means if you—like most knowledge workers—primarily single task (except do these quick checks every five or ten minutes to an inbox with your phone or to a web browser) what you’re actually doing is keeping yourself in a persistent state of reduced cognitive performance. So, attention residue is a sort of hidden killer for knowledge work productivity.
People who think they’re doing a good job of focusing on one thing at a time—not keeping multiple inboxes of windows open simultaneously—might actually be (because of quick checks creating attention residue) unintentionally reducing how much they’re able to perform, how much they’re able to produce, and the quality levels that they’re actually able to achieve.
So, I often advise for knowledge workers, one of the most effective things you can do to get your productivity up is that, when you work on one thing, make sure that the number of context switches (that is any glance to anything different than what you’re doing) is minimized to zero.
It doesn’t matter how long the context switch is. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend on the distraction. It’s the cost of actually switching your attention itself…that’s going to reduce your performance.
Megan: So, what about the annual price tag to all that lost productivity? According to a study by Basex Research, it’s $588 billion annually.
Michael: That’s almost real money.
Megan: In fact, it is. Jonathan Spira, author of the book Overload! says it’s almost twice that. He estimates that interruptions and information overload eat up 28 billion wasted hours a year at a cost of almost $1 trillion to the US economy.
Michael: Wow, that is huge.
Megan: That’s crazy.
Michael: Yeah, it is. The second result of distraction is that it’s addictive. You know the pattern. You get stumped on something tough at work or maybe you just get bored, but instead of pushing through the difficulty you bounce off to find something easier, like email or Slack or social media.
In their book The Distracted Mind, professors Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen say it’s because humans are inherently information-seeking. They cite a study of Stanford University students whose computers were set to take screenshots of their activity throughout the day. The students rarely stayed on one screen very long. Now here’s where it gets interesting. Researchers attached sensors to the students to measure their level of arousal.
Several seconds before they switched screens, the sensors signaled an uptick in arousal, especially when jumping from hard tasks like writing or research to entertaining activity like social media or watching videos. We have to be aware of what is happening to our brains. When we bail on a problem and jump to Facebook, for example, we get a dopamine hit, and dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gives us a small but pleasurable reward for behavior.
It’s the same thing that drives addictive behaviors of all kinds. If we’re not careful, we can get addicted to it. It can become a kind of self-induced ADD condition. This is why it’s so hard to break free from Facebook or Twitter or whatever else distracts us. In fact, the more we do it, the more we get addicted to it, because we’re addicted to dopamine.
Megan: Absolutely. It’s also why it’s so critical to develop frustration tolerance, because if you come into this kind of situation unarmed, you don’t have a chance.
Michael: No, you don’t.
Megan: The third result of distraction is that it leads to overwork. Research shows that multitaskers do work faster but actually produce less. According to Stanford University’s psychology professor Clifford Nass, that’s because when we focus on one task we filter what’s important for the completion of the task, but when we multitask we lose the ability to decide what’s relevant and what’s not. We start wasting time by processing useless information.
But the hours we’ve wasted don’t change the results we’re responsible for. Right? We still have to make things happen, get things done that we’re responsible for, so we wind up staying later to accomplish the tasks we didn’t finish. It’s no surprise, then, that according to Gallup, 20 percent of full-time employees in the US work more than 60 hours a week.
Michael: Yeah, that’s a lot.
Megan: It is a lot.
Michael: It’s all based on this distraction and our lack of frustration tolerance. Now before we move into our next practice, I want to offer a strategy to help combat distraction. One of the problems most of us have is we attempt to get too much done during the day. We have 20 things to do on our to-do list, and we accomplish 10, 11, or 12 things, and then we feel like a failure, we feel overwhelmed, and worse, all of those things distract us and keep us from really focusing on what’s important.
One of the things I advocate in my course Free to Focus and in the Full Focus Planner is something I call the Big 3 or the Daily Big 3. The idea is to pick out three really important tasks, things that if you accomplished would really move the needle in your business or in your life, things that are related to your goals, things that are important but not necessarily urgent. You can have some of the other tasks as well, but you have to get focused on those Big 3. If you accomplish those, you’re going to be fine. Now on to the second practice: control your attitude.
Megan: The conventional wisdom when we think about controlling our attitude is a lot about positivity. We want to avoid negativity because we want to be focused on positivity because that’s what produces positive results. That drives me crazy.
Megan: Well, because I think both negativity and positivity are mechanisms people use to avoid pain. If you’re focused on being positive all the time, that could be actually very dangerous in business and leadership.
Michael: That’s definitely the case, and I’ve certainly seen that in business, where somebody was kind of in la-la land, deluded, and convinced themselves that it was all going to turn out okay when they actually were avoiding the work and the challenge of making sure it turned out okay.
Megan: For example, if you think about risk management, you sure as heck wouldn’t want to have a CFO who was overly positive. That could be disastrous.
Michael: Right. You want reality.
Megan: You want reality. On the other hand, negativity is another way of avoiding pain, because you’re sort of catastrophizing and going to the worst possible outcome and sort of being fatalistic about it, where you take away your own agency and you’re just assuming that the worst thing is going to happen. That’s another way of fast-forwarding to your worst-case scenario. All of your fears in your mind have come true, and you’re avoiding pain. Both are unhelpful in terms of controlling your attitude, negativity or positivity.
Michael: Yep, absolutely. So let’s talk about an alternative to that, because I really think there is one. I don’t think it’s either optimism or pessimism. There’s an alternative that actually kind of embraces both and is a better alternative to either one of those. I would couch these as truths, and the first truth is that pessimism without optimism leads to cynicism. Most of us know pessimism is the wrong approach.
There’s some question and debate about optimism, but I think all of us can agree that pessimism by itself is not a good thing. According to psychologist Michael Scheier, pessimists don’t perform as well in life as optimists. As Scheier says, pessimists “tend to deny, avoid, and distort the problems they confront and dwell on their negative feelings.” We all know what it feels like to be cornered by an Eeyore who insists on seeing the worst in everything.
I’ll never forget. I was at a publishing conference when an author cornered me and began to complain about everything. His career wasn’t going well, and according to him, it was the agent’s fault or it was the publisher’s fault or the publicist didn’t get enough publicity for him. It was everybody’s fault but his, and it was so negative I finally just had to excuse myself and say, “Oh, you know what? I need to go,” because I couldn’t take it. It was just very, very negative. I see it kind of as a three-tiered sickness. Negativity descends into pessimism and then into cynicism.
Megan: Which is the worst.
Michael: Which is the worst. Cynicism is kind of like cardiovascular disease for your soul, where it becomes calcified and hardened and your knee-jerk response is always negative, negative. Brené Brown explains our inclination toward cynicism with the term foreboding joy. I love that. It’s the reluctance to believe the best for fear of disappointment.
Megan: I’ll tell you what. When I heard her talk about this the first time, it hit me like a ton of bricks. She uses an example of when you go and kiss your child good night at bedtime, and then you start imagining them dying of some tragic accident or illness, and you start spinning the movie trailer voices in your head, and you start thinking of all of the horrible things that could happen and what would happen if you lost them. It’s a self-protective mechanism that robs you of joy in the present because you’re trying to avoid pain again, like we were just talking about.
Michael: So true. Again, she said (I think in that same clip we both saw), “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” I just love that. But that inclination toward cynicism isn’t the only wrong attitude. Let’s explore the next one.
Megan: The second truth is that optimism without pessimism leads to delusion. This is a particularly scary one. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I think this whole optimism thing really started gaining ground in the 50s with the publication of The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Right?
Michael: Yeah. And that book is not all bad for sure. Believe it or not, my dad only paid me to read one book in my entire teenage years, and it was this book. He paid me $20 to read this book when I was a teenager, and it had a lot of positive impact on me. But if you’re not careful and you only look on the sunny side of everything, it can be an incredible trap.
I happen to know one of Dr. Peale’s disciples who built a pretty big enterprise. He was one of our authors when I was at Thomas Nelson Publishers, and that enterprise ended up going bankrupt toward the end of his life. He lost not only that business but his legacy. It was really tragic and really a shame.
Megan: It’s a sad story.
Michael: He had his head so high in the clouds, only looking at the positive, he didn’t factor in the negative stuff he really needed to be paying attention to in order to fix the business and keep it on track.
Megan: I think this is when you stop reading your financial statements. You stop checking your bank balances. You stop monitoring the metrics of your business, and you sort of ignore all of those people who come and bring you the warnings. You say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I know it’s going to be great.” You just head straight for the iceberg in total denial.
Michael: Right. The worst part about it is you’re training all of the people who are under your leadership to do the exact same thing. There’s a domino effect through your entire organization, where it’s all happy talk all the time. I’m all for optimism, but again, unless you face the reality, unless you include with it pessimism where it’s warranted, it’s going to lead to delusion, and delusion ain’t good.
Megan: It leads to destruction, ultimately, because you don’t have the opportunity to course correct while you can, and the crash is much bigger.
Michael: That’s right. Okay, that brings us to the third truth: hopeful realism leads you to pivot. Like Tom Petty said, “I like to be an optimist, but I like to be a realist too.” Boy, that’s well put. The problem is that both pessimism and optimism omit a portion of reality, and frankly, it’s a portion you can’t afford to omit. You want your perception of the world to match reality but retain a belief that you can influence that reality to achieve a good outcome. It’s what I’m calling hopeful realism.
Megan: I love that, by the way.
Michael: You do?
Megan: I think that’s a great balance of not avoiding negative feelings but also retaining your agency.
Michael: I think we have to shed this either/or thinking and embrace a both/and thinking. This term really holds intention, both the tough realities we’re facing, on the one hand, and the incredible agency we have to influence their outcome. It empowers us to pivot, as I started with, to shift strategies and take action to rewrite the end of the story.
This has happened for us in a lot of product launches, where we started down one path, and we were so excited. We thought everything was going to work great, and yet the early results would indicate that something was off. Maybe it was our communication strategy. Maybe it was the offer. Maybe it was the product design.
It could have been a host of things, but we could have just talked ourselves into a place where, “You know, it’s going to turn out okay in the end. Don’t worry about it,” and not take action, and then end up disappointed when reality came crashing down around us because we were ignoring it; we had our head in the clouds.
Hopeful realism would take the approach of saying, “Whoa! Something is missing here, and we need to pay attention to it. All the happy talk in the world is not going to fix that. We have to pay attention to it, we have to do our analysis, and we have to take corrective action.” The bottom line is that success isn’t a straight line. Acknowledging failure unleashes our creativity. We don’t need to be afraid of that. Our best problem-solving and our personal agency.
Megan: I love that. Whenever we have something that doesn’t work quite the way we hoped in our business, and I was thinking about this in preparation for our recording today… This happens every year at least once or twice. I cannot think of an exception in our entire existence as a business where this hasn’t happened. Inevitably, many things go very well, but something doesn’t go well.
In the early days, that kind of created anxiety for us, but now it’s sort of like, “Okay, it’s not working,” and we really ask better questions, and we acknowledge that that we would never ask outside of that moment of failure. It keeps us from being complacent, it keeps us from getting too comfortable, and it really propels us toward innovation and creativity in a way that, frankly, success never would.
Michael: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I like how this is articulated by Jim Collins in the book Good to Great, where he talks about something he calls the Stockdale Paradox. Do you remember this from the book?
Michael: It’s a great story, and it comes from the true story of Admiral James Stockdale, who was an eight-year prisoner of war, which I can’t imagine, but it all happened during the Vietnam War era. As it turns out, when he was released from the prisoner-of-war camp, a reporter said, “Wow. You made it for eight years. Congratulations. Who are the guys who didn’t make it?” He said, “Oh, that’s easy. The optimists.” I remember the first time I read that I was shocked.
Megan: It’s exactly backward of what you would think.
Michael: You would think he would say the pessimists. They were negative, and they just died because they were so negative. But he doesn’t say that. He says it was the optimists, and he says they died of a broken heart. Then he goes on to explain it. He says these were the guys who believed that they would be out by Easter, and then Easter would come and go and they weren’t out. Then he says they would say, “Well, we’ll be out by the end of the summer,” and the end of the summer would come and go and they weren’t out, and then it was Christmas, and he said they died of a broken heart.
That’s a problem with optimism. Ultimately, if that’s all you have, you’re going to have a head-on collision with reality, and that’s going to be so discouraging you’re going to want to quit. He summarizes it something like this in the book: “The Stockdale Paradox is simultaneously doing two things: confronting the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be, and retaining faith that you will prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties.”
This is exactly what great leaders do. They’re able to acknowledge the most brutal facts of their current reality. They don’t mince words. They don’t try to dance around it. They don’t try to gussy it up and make it better than it is, but they acknowledge it for what it is. On the other hand, they retain faith that they’ll prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties. That’s a hard tension to hold, and yet it’s essential if you’re going to lead well.
Megan: That’s why we’re always advocating for this hopeful realism idea.
Michael: Exactly. To put this one into action, simply pause the next time you’re facing a big challenge and ask two things. “What are the harsh realities right now?” Don’t be afraid to let them speak for themselves. Don’t feel like you have to polish them, make them better than they are. What are the harsh realities right now? Then ask, “What actions can I take to improve the end result of those realities?” Because you do have agency. If you have the courage to grapple honestly with both of those questions, you’ll unleash the power of hopeful realism in your situation.
Megan: I love that, and I think an important point for leaders is to ask your team those questions, to include them in the conversation. They will have so much more trust and faith in you when they know you’re willing to say what’s honest and real about what’s happening than feel like they have to keep up a front. What we’ve experienced, certainly, in our organization is that that’s where the breakthroughs come in. That’s where the creativity comes from. Very often, those things come not from ourselves, as leaders, but from the people we’re leading when we give them an opportunity to voice their ideas.
Michael: What’s important about this is if you’re not really careful about this, if you insist on optimism and people start sugarcoating the facts, you’re going to get increasingly separated from the truth as a leader, and your perception of what’s going on is going to be distorted. If you have any hope of succeeding, you have to know the truth of the situation. You have to know the facts, and you have to create an environment where it’s safe to come to you with those brutal facts even if they’re negative.
Megan: Love that. Before we continue our conversation on practices that increase our frustration tolerance, I want to pause for just a minute to talk about a new resource you’ve created to help guarantee that we grow as leaders. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Michael: Yeah. I’m so excited about this new product. It’s called LeaderBox, and it’s essentially leadership development that comes in a box. It’s a monthly curated reading experience designed to maximize your time, grow your leadership, and accelerate your results as a leader. It delivers personal and professional development to your door, helping you get through two books a month in just 30 minutes a day.
Megan: That is so important, because we’re all just so busy. We know that reading is vital to our continued growth as leaders, but there are so many books out there competing for our attention that it can be challenging just to decide what to read, let alone find the time to read the books and then apply those lessons to our businesses. It can be overwhelming fast.
Michael: Exactly. That’s where LeaderBox comes in. My team and I have a combined experience (get this) of over 50 years in the book publishing industry. It’s a lot, and we’re leveraging all that know-how to bring you the most valuable books each month, the ones that are really going to move the needle in your life and business in a curated, subscription-based service. Two books, custom Activation Guides, and more will arrive on your doorstep each month.
Megan: Just to say it again, you can get through this in 30 minutes a day, which is crazy. That’s a lot of books to read in a year in 30 minutes a day.
Michael: And actually it’s only 21 days of the month. We give you the weekends off.
Megan: That happens in the Activation Guide. So talk a little bit about what is in those.
Michael: This includes a 21-day Reading Plan, executive book summaries, action steps, a list of related resources, plus my proprietary Book Insights framework to help you quickly internalize the key concepts. It’s an easy, complete subscription that allows you to automate your growth in just minutes a day.
Megan: I love this solution, because I think it solves a very real need for leaders who are committed to personal growth and professional growth but need to achieve it as quickly as possible. I mean, come on. We don’t have time to sit around for hours every day like we’re professional students. Plus, unlike so many subscription services, you’re offering the option to cancel at any time.
Michael: Yeah, that was a big decision for us, but we wanted to take all the risk out so that leaders can get the development tools they need without having to worry about being locked in if it’s not right for them.
Megan: For those who are interested, where can they find out more?
Michael: Well, I thought you’d never ask. You can subscribe now at leaderbox.com, and I’ll encourage you to do that today so you don’t miss the cutoff for the next box.
Megan: That’s important, because each box is only available for one month, and there’s no way to get your hands on them after that. Right?
Michael: That’s true. The books in the Activation Guide this month are great, and I don’t want you to miss out, so subscribe now.
Megan: Great. I hope all of you will go check that out. Now let’s dive back into our discussion on self-denial, or as I would prefer to call it, frustration tolerance.
Michael: You’re not going to let that one go.
Megan: I’m really not.
Michael: Okay. The third practice is control your appetites. This is really about saying no to immediate gratification so we can say yes to long-term gains, and that’s the way we need to frame it. As Brené Brown says, integrity is choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy, and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them. My friend Andy Stanley calls this trading the ultimate for the immediate. Then he goes on to explain why we do this: because our appetites are never fully satisfied. Listen to this.
Andy Stanley: Appetites are never fully and finally satisfied. You know this, because you’ve sat down at a meal and eaten till you thought you were going to throw up, and you said, “I can’t eat another thing.” Three hours later, you’re at the refrigerator looking for something else to eat. Right? Why? Because appetites are never fully and finally satisfied. We know that when it comes to food. The same is true of sex. The same is true of acceptance. The same is true of progress. The same is true of creativity.
There is no appetite that is ever fully and finally satisfied, and the lie that you will be tempted to believe for the rest of your life is that there’s somebody out there who can fully and finally satisfy an appetite; there’s some thing out there that can fully and finally satisfy an appetite; there’s some recognition out there that can fully and finally satisfy an appetite.
You need to know for the rest of your life the way appetites are designed, they are never, ever fully and finally satisfied. There aren’t enough touchdowns. There aren’t enough kisses. There aren’t enough awards. There aren’t enough cars. There aren’t enough shoes. Appetites are never fully and finally satisfied. You never go, “Oh, I’m done.” Never, ever, ever.
[End of video]
Megan: As Andy said, we chase instant gratification, believing it will finally satisfy those insatiable desires. This leads us to make three very dangerous trade-offs. Can you share the first with us?
Michael: Yes. The first trade-off is health for pleasure. Now we’re back in marshmallow land.
Megan: I really like the marshmallows.
Michael: I do too. It’s a great metaphor, a great story.
Megan: No, I mean actual marshmallows.
Michael: Oh, I was getting all metaphorical.
Megan: I was seeing Jet-Puffed in my imagination.
Michael: Okay, we’ll get some of those after this podcast. So how many daily choices do we make for momentary satisfaction despite the long-term, adverse impact they have on our health? Just take a few examples, like junk food, soft drinks, smoking, clicking away the evening on Facebook.
Megan: Wait, wait, wait. You’re getting too personal.
Michael: I know. Or opting for another episode of our favorite TV show or binging all four Jurassic Park movies instead of getting a good night’s sleep. TV binging is a real problem. In fact, when Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, was asked about their greatest competitor in a 2017 earnings call, he didn’t identify another streaming platform like Hulu. Get this. Hastings said, “We’re competing with sleep.”
Megan: Oh my gosh. This is terrifying to me.
Michael: I know.
Megan: This is like slap your head, I don’t know what.
Michael: It’s like their goal is to keep you awake all night.
Michael: Which is not that helpful for the rest of us. If we’re not careful, short-term pleasure can become the enemy of long-term, vibrant health. I think really good leaders are able to say no to these things, knowing that they’re in it for the long game. Not the short-term gratification but for the long game.
Megan: The second trade-off when we fall prey to instant gratification is that we trade intimacy for admiration. The truth is this is probably what’s behind all indiscretions in marriage. Don’t you think?
Megan: The truth is we are built for intimacy, but so often we’ll settle for admiration. Intimacy is work. Admiration is cheap and easy. It doesn’t require anything of us.
Michael: I think social media actually cultivates this.
Megan: I think so too. Tell me more about what you’re thinking on that.
Michael: You know, I wrote the book Platform, and it was really about how to build a social media following, but the problem is a lot of people use that who probably shouldn’t be using it, because they like the fast track to fame. They want admiration rather than building intimacy with the people who are closest around them.
I think this is a real problem when we think we’re developing relationships with thousands of people and we’re neglecting the people who are closest to us, the people we could have an intimate, more meaningful, more satisfying relationship with. Again, just to your point, I think we have to be careful that we don’t make this trade of intimacy for admiration.
Megan: In your example, we’re talking about pandering to fans of our brand or business that gives us that kind of quick hit, like dopamine ego boost sort of thing, and neglecting an issue with somebody, for example, on our team we need to address or in our business or with our family or friends that requires us to go deeper, to have uncomfortable conversations, to really engage at a level that requires so much more of us than just a simple one-way admiration that feels good and is easy.
Michael: The truth about intimacy is it’s usually on the other side of conflict. In other words, you have to push through the conflict to get to intimacy, but that takes work, and that takes the ability to delay gratification.
Megan: It totally does. I think the challenge before us when we think about frustration tolerance is to do the hard and messy work of cultivating real intimacy in our relationships and with the people in our businesses, whatever, instead of settling for admiration.
Michael: Yeah, I agree. The third trade-off is long-term success for short-term achievement. One of the greatest appetites we have to control, and I think we have to be honest here as leaders, is our ambition. This is the thing that drives us to overwork at the expense of our health, our families, and our long-term career endurance, and it doesn’t help when some of the cultural icons of our day are people like Elon Musk.
For all the good he’s doing, and I think Teslas are great cars and I would love to have one, but it’s kind of a negative example, because this is a guy who advocates working 80 to 100 hours a week, and people lose their families, they lose their health, they lose their businesses by doing that. That’s blind ambition that’s not tempered by integrity and by the ability to deny that for the sake of something even greater.
An addiction to overwork can have disastrous consequences. Alexandra Michel of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a 12-year study of investment bankers who regularly worked between (get this) 100 and 120 hours a week. There are only 168 hours in a week, so these financial workers were shorting sleep, relationships, self-care, and honestly, just about everything else.
Not surprisingly, Michel found that these bankers were amazingly productive for the first few years, given their solitary focus, almost a monastic focus. Also not surprising, it didn’t last. According to Michel, starting in year four, bankers started to experience sometimes debilitating physical and psychological breakdowns.
They suffered from chronic exhaustion, insomnia, back and body pain, autoimmune diseases, heart arrhythmias, among other illnesses. As their performance plummeted, she said, they simply compensated for their diminishing output by working longer (talk about crazy), which caught them in a cycle of escalating work hours and chronic physical and emotional distress.
While conditions for most of us are less extreme than these experienced by the bankers, we’ve all been pulled into the trap of grinding away on some short-term project, some short-term win that’s at odds with our long-term purpose. Instead, we have to have the vision and the courage to pursue sustainable success, and that’s a very different thing than pursuing these short-term wins.
Megan: In fact, this actually was something I had to confront very recently. Our listeners may not know that I have four children with my husband Joel, and two of those children are adopted and have some special needs. Our youngest son had some really significant issues come up this summer that we had to address, and that necessitated me taking a leave of absence from our company for an entire month.
This was, as you might imagine, unplanned. It wasn’t like we see crises in our family or health or whatever coming, but I had to choose to step away so I could give him the attention and the care he needed during that time to help him get on more solid footing. We traveled to go to Ohio to see a special therapist and all kinds of different things we did. That was a hard choice for me.
Michael: How did you feel as you were contemplating that choice?
Megan: I had a ton of anxiety about it. In fact, you and I had a phone conversation. It wasn’t my idea, by the way. It was my mom who called me I think after talking to you, and she was very empathetic, and she just said… She’s heavily involved in our business, so this wasn’t outside of the norm for her to do.
She said, “I just really think you ought to consider taking a leave of absence. I think this is too much for you to try to navigate these challenges while running the business at the same time, and I think you’ve built a staff and a team that can handle things while you’re gone.” This, by the way, happened while you were also on sabbatical for a month, so it was really unusual timing.
Michael: Yeah, I forgot about that.
Megan: We were both out at the same time for the same month. It was the best decision I ever made, but I’ll tell you what. I really struggled with it, partly because in my mind I thought, “Will I even have a job when I come back? Will my team be so good that the little ripple that is made from the rock that gets thrown in the pool just close and no one will even notice when I come back?” It seems silly now, but it felt very real to me. You and I had a phone conversation where I cried.
I really had to come to grips with how much significance and security I was getting from my work, and I needed to have that long-term vision for my family in mind and step away from what was the short-term win of whatever we were trying to accomplish in that month. And you know what? It was the best decision I could have made for my family, and the business didn’t suffer at all. It was because I had that long-term perspective, and I wasn’t focused on the short-term.
Michael: How I felt about it as your father and as your boss was I was very proud of you, because I thought that took a lot of confidence. I knew you were scared. I knew you were struggling with the anxiety and all that, but I was so proud that you were willing to do that tough work to overcome the frustration (because we’re talking about frustration tolerance), to overcome those uncomfortable feelings for the sake of a long-term gain. Boy, could we tell the difference in Jonah, your youngest son, when you guys came back from that. It’s not like everything magically got better, but it substantially improved.
Megan: We had major breakthroughs.
Michael: And that would not have happened if you had not given that your full focus for that month.
Michael: Not only did this not hurt the business. I think it was actually beneficial for the business. Here’s why. It was really good for the team to have you away, because it forced them to dig deep and find their own resources and be able to perform, and they did a great job.
Megan: They did such a great job.
Michael: They did. The other thing was because you were totally focused at home and got that situation handled, when you came back you were even more present and more focused and accomplished more, I think, in the weeks after that leave of absence than you would have accomplished if you had stayed present that whole time being distracted by home.
Megan: I think you’re right.
Michael: Megan, you’re a great example of managing ambition, not letting that get out of control but really playing the long game and being really focused on long-term success and not just satisfying short-term ambition.
Megan: Thank you. I appreciate that. The cure here is to learn to recognize legitimate appetites. They’re the ones that are things that make you come alive versus numb out. That’s how we know the difference.
Michael: It’s not that all appetites are bad.
Megan: Right. It’s just you don’t want to settle for the ones that are like an emotionally driven carb fest. You want the healthy, nourishing meal.
Megan: For example, like a genuine conversation with a friend versus a boastful interaction with an acquaintance you just want to impress.
Michael: Good distinction.
Megan: Or an hour spent intentionally pursuing a hobby that fulfills you versus an hour spent mindlessly scrolling through Facebook.
Michael: Two different things.
Megan: I think the endgame here is to put a leash on your illegitimate desires, those ones that cause you to want to numb out, and really lean into and dive in fully to the legitimate ones that bring you life and point you in the right direction.
Today we’ve covered three practices to boost our frustration tolerance and gain the benefits of…here’s that word again…self-denial: controlling our attention, our attitudes, and our appetites. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, you have the show notes and a full transcript online at leadto.win.
In today’s episode, our entire aim has been to show you that some limits liberate. To borrow from Saint Paul, “All things may be permissible, but not all things are beneficial.” In a society constantly urging us to grab the first marshmallow, practicing a bit of self-denial here can lead to major rewards later on. Any final thoughts today, Dad?
Michael: Yeah. I think this is an opportunity to really lean into this countercultural aspect of leadership. Leaders are different than the rest of everybody else. If we want to keep getting the same results everybody else is getting, which is health that fails, burned-out relationships, and all of that for the sake of…what? Building a bigger empire, stuff we can’t take with us. I remember Charles Swindoll once famously said he never saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul.
So what are we doing all this for? I think we have to throttle that back and get very serious about self-denial, not just for the sake of self-denial but for the sake of accomplishing something greater, for the sake of the people we’re leading, for the sake of the missions we’re serving, for the sake of the vision we’re trying to create.
Megan: Fantastic. Before we close, I want to remind you about LeaderBox. It’s automated personal development in a box. Check it out at leaderbox.com.
Michael: Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. If you like the show, please tell your friends and colleagues about it, and also please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts.
Megan: This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.
Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller, Mandi Rivieccio, and Jeremy Lott.
Megan: Our recording engineer is Matt Price.
Michael: Our production assistants are Mike Burns and Aleshia Curry.
Megan: And our intern is Winston.
Michael: A few minutes ago, we mentioned the research of Alexandra Michel and those 100-hour bankers. If you found that interesting, you’re going to love our next episode. We’ll be discussing how to beat the burnout culture that tempts us to work around the clock. Until then, lead to win.