As many athletes transition from their regular season and into off-season training, they’ll likely come face to face with one of the biggest mental barriers to high-performance: learning how to live with delayed gratification.
Difficult tasks (like high performance athletic training) usually require a tough trade-off of having to do the work now, for a reward that may or may not come later. For many young athletes this trade-off is particularly difficult, especially because technology has designed most of our world to provide instant gratification – one click solutions to whatever our heart desires.
Psychology points to Present Bias as major contributor to shortcomings in long-term planning.
Present Bias is the tendency to settle for a smaller present reward rather than to wait for a larger future reward. It describes the trend of overvaluing immediate rewards, while putting less worth in long-term consequences.
Another name for it would be: impulsivity.
So how do we overcome this bias? Well, a growing body of research suggests that if we can build some fun (like a reward) into our process we can increase our likelihood of seeing difficult tasks through. By designing instant gratification activities into tasks that don’t naturally yield them we can increase enjoyment and the likelihood of repeating positive activities.
This type of design can take a number of forms including:
- Listening to a book or podcast while you train
- Bundling the workout with a temptation – ex. riding a stationary bike while binge-watching watching Netflix
- Giving your Instagram password to your Trainer and having it shared back only after completing a work-out
- Rewarding a week’s worth of hard training with an indulgent meal
- Using one of the many “gamified” work-out apps (https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/6-fitness-apps-that-make-working-out-too-fun-skip.html)
Whatever it is you design, the important thing that research points to is that the athlete must be involved in building the reward system. Study after study show that when a reward system is imposed on a person, rather than designed by them, they’re more likely to give up on the task.
If we need to see proof of this idea in action – check out this great video of a company in Sweden who designed fun into taking the stairs versus taking the escalator:
Enjoy designing “fun” into your training plans!