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If something we work on provides us with instant gratification, we invest in it. Take, for example, after a presentation you make, someone comes to you and says you changed his or her life or felt inspired to it. There’s no better reward. Or when you spend time on details, plating to the delight of someone’s meal.

But most of the things you work on, you invested the time in the expectation of a future positive outcome. So, you work on the assumption of delaying your gratification.

One moment in your life does not measure success, but successive moments where your work produces small incremental changes which later make an impact. But it’s hard to deal with the uncertainty of an assumption, and this is why we may fail to perform a successful work that lasts, over other things outside of work, which gives us instant gratification.

The problem of delayed gratification is the lack of immediacy, but I found James Clear’s insight in his book “Atomic Habits” worth considering,

“it’s possible to train yourself to delay gratification—but you need to work with the grain of human nature, not against it. The best way to do this is to add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long-run and a little bit of immediate pain to ones that don’t.” (James Clear in Atomic Habits)

And when the delayed gratification at work finally arrives, you look back at what you’ve accomplished to see that it was life itself which changed the most and you feel grateful. Grateful to the little things that turn your life great.