Now or Later?

True conscious growth is often difficult to achieve. Whether it's exercising regularly to grow stronger physically, studying a difficult subject to gain deeper knowledge, facing deep fears to transform to develop greater courage, going through the discomfort of withdrawal to break free of addiction or working through an emotional conflict to improve a relationship with a person you care about, there is generally a lot of pain on the front end. The first push-ups are the hardest.

The result that comes from such hard work, when it pays off, is a sense of relief, accomplishment, gratitude, self-esteem, resilience, serenity, insight, strength and other life-affirming benefits. On the other hand, a lot of other types of activities are easy and fun at first. Avoiding an issue, getting high, living in denial, eating junk, watching porn, wasting money and many other so-called vices can deliver a lot of pleasure on the front end but eventually result in grief, isolation, wasted opportunities, regret, devastation and an almost infinite number of other problems that just get worse as time goes by.

As the saying goes, there's no free lunch. You can pay it now or later. If you make the decision to go through the work that is before you, whatever it is, you will reap the benefits as time moves forward. But if you avoid the effort and take the easy way out, the hard part will likely be waiting for you further down the road. You can experience the high now. Or you can dig in, do the work and reap much greater depths a little later.

In a famous study of human behavior from many years ago, a researcher would sit a child at a table with a treat such as a cookie or marshmallow on a plate. The child was given the choice of eating the treat now or waiting until the adult came back in 10 minutes with two treats the child could then have. The child was then left in the room alone.

Some kids resisted the temptation to give in and were rewarded for their patience with double the goodies, and others of course that a cookie in the tummy now is worth the promise of two later. Subsequent studies showed that the kids who were able to delay gratification did better on a variety of personality measures.

The point is that the overall quality of our lives often comes down to the choice of having our treat now or a greater one later.

Pay it now or pay it later. Have it now or have it later. The choice, of course, is yours.


Bill Herring is an experienced Atlanta counselor and psychotherapist who helps individuals and couples enjoy fuller, happier and more meaningful lives  While working with a wide range of adult clients he is a nationally recognized specialist on helping god people maintain consistent, safe and ethical sexual boundaries.

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