Tag Archives: delayed gratification

What Would You Trade the Rest of Your Life For?

During a recent run, I was told that a number of world-class athletes had once been asked the following: Suppose there was a drug that would guarantee victories in whatever events you chose, but would also cause you to die in five years. Would you take that drug?

The surprising result became known as Goldman’s dilemma, after the physician who posed the question. Read on for how the athletes answered.

Hey, what if I could take the drug at age 95? By Kuebi = Armin Kübelbeck (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hey, what if I could take the drug at age 95?
Source: Armin Kübelbeck, Wikimedia Commons

One could argue that the question is meaningless, because in reality there is no such drug, and therefore no actual choice to make. Yet isn’t a form of Goldman’s dilemma already in evidence from athletes who take steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, despite the known side effects and risk of getting caught?

And what about NFL players who continue to play despite multiple surgeries, tissue-destroying cortisone shots, and concussions? Many former players are practically crippled or have symptoms of severe brain damage from concussions.

When I was growing up, I was taught that delayed gratification was a good thing. And anyone who works out has heard the phrase short-term pain for long-term gain. But the examples above are doing the opposite – obtaining short-term money and fame in exchange for long-term suffering. This is classically portrayed as selling one’s soul to the Devil.

And over half the athletes asked the “magic drug + death” question said they would take it, willing to take the short-term success in exchange for no long-term at all.

And this disgraced former champion even said he'd cheat all over again. "Lance Armstrong MidiLibre 2002" by de:Benutzer:Hase - Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

And this disgraced former champion recently said he’d cheat all over again.
Lance Armstrong MidiLibre 2002” by de:Benutzer:HaseSelf-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I bring this up due to something Randy Step recently posted in the Running Fit Events newsletter. He cited the recent sensationalist articles claiming that running hard is as bad for you as being sedentary, and that life is not prolonged as a result (read a more informed analysis here). Randy’s point is that we don’t run to escape death; we run to enjoy the experience and experience a higher quality of life until we do shuffle off this mortal coil.

“Would you rather be living it up and running every day until you are 80 and then just drop dead,” Randy writes, “or would you rather live a sedentary life, develop congestive heart failure at 80, spend 10 years in a nursing home with multiple disease factors, perhaps Alzheimer’s and no quality of life, then die at 90?”

Fortunately, studies consistently show that people who exercise live longer and also have a higher quality of life than those who are sedentary, so again this is a hypothetical choice. But I’m pretty sure I’d choose the “run every day, die at 80” scenario. Being active is about more than just staying healthy and fit. I believe it is a major contributor to my self-confidence and happiness.

Somehow I don't think Meb is interested in dying early. By Gr5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a hard runner who I’ll bet outlives any couch potato.
By Gr5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As for dropping dead during a run, there have been races where I’ve felt pretty close to it. So far, so good, though. I’ll be sure to let you all know if I make it to 81.

I’m a Stoic, and Didn’t Know Ic

I was browsing recently through some articles I’d archived for later reading, and came upon this gem from Eric Barker’s blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Full article: 4 Lifehacks From Ancient Philosophers That Will Make You Happier

Here Eric describes some principles of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism and how modern scientific studies actually back up the idea that they increase happiness. While reading through his article, I recognized some things I do these days that seem to fit right in with those principles. Marcus Aurelius would be so proud.


When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

Here’s a few Stoic principles, and how I was unknowingly following them. Perhaps you will find that you are doing the same thing!

Negative Visualization – taming your anxiety about something by imagining the worst. Motivational speaker Les Brown was so afraid of the dentist, he was always putting off appointments. Finally, he said, “I imagined myself in that chair where I just died!” – and the image was so silly that he got over his fear and got his teeth fixed.

I applied this with my recent colonoscopy. (Yes, I’ve reached that certain age.) Thinking about the procedure produced the expected discomfort, so I kept putting it off “for just a bit”. Then I remembered Les Brown, took a deep breath, and scheduled the appointment. And thanks to the drugs, I don’t remember a thing about it.

I got another one...

I got another one.

The Stoics also generated feelings of gratitude for what they had by imagining it all lost – even family and friends. A wise person told me once to prepare yourself to say goodbye to something from the moment you obtain it. So when our kitten threatened to break my newly won Holiday Hustle Christmas ornament, I was calm enough to save it without yelling at her. Then I dropped it. And even managed to laugh about it.

Stop anger by being calm – even if you have to fake it at first. All of us get angry at times. But losing control may cause you to do something you’ll regret later. There are a couple of ways I deal with getting angry these days. First, I recognize and acknowledge that I’m angry. It’s what Dr. Wayne Dyer calls “being the watcher” – that part of us that is always serene. It’s the ego that gets angry, and the ego is not who we really are. If I can get that far, I can then remind myself that I can choose how to respond instead of blindly reacting.

Second, I’ve come to learn that I get angry sometimes because I’ve misunderstood what someone is saying or doing. So by asking for more information, or observing something more closely, I can see that my anger is misguided, and end it right there.

Delayed gratification. In America today we can get just about anything we want, at just about any time. But is that making us any happier? The Stoics believed that by deliberately withholding something pleasurable, it would a) make you appreciate what you already have, and b) increase the pleasure when you do indulge. Lent is a famous example, although I’m not sure how many people these days really give up something for 40 days.

Chasing Ice Cream TruckBut here’s something that can motivate me when getting the workout in, or completing a long run, seems challenging. I tell myself I can have a treat at the end, like ice cream. Then after I’m done, sometimes I get the ice cream. But more often, the satisfaction I get from completing the workout is enough that I don’t need the external reward anymore. And on off days, I put off getting ice cream, telling myself I will enjoy it so much more the next day, after my run. And so on.

Question for my Aikido friends: Does any of this sound familiar?

Sorry for the irreverence. But this is still one of the funniest sketches ever. Click here to watch it.

Sorry for the irreverence. But this is still one of the funniest sketches ever. Click here to watch it.

As another article by Eric Barker points out, many of the same principles were part of Japanese samurai culture – most notably, the idea of a calm mind in all situations. Other parallels include preparing for the worst (a samurai trained every day with death in mind), and control of one’s mind at all times. By doing this, a samurai could establish a feeling of control even in the most chaotic situations.

Read more: Lessons from the Samurai: The Secret to Always Being At Your Best

I suppose the moral of all this is that no matter whether you’re oriented more toward the West or the East, there’s much wisdom in common. So keep on learning!