Where do you strive for greatness? Do you want to be a scratch golfer, a prominent business owner, an excellent spouse, a loving parent, or speed knitter? Yes, I said speed knitter. Whatever it is you dream about for greatness in your life, you need a very important quality that is despised in American culture. You need to learn to love denying yourself. In other words, you need to learn to reject instant gratification.
Nobody ever talks about how much they love denying themselves, but when you look at anyone who has achieved anything great in life, they all have this trait in common. They are happy to deny themselves. Why? They know that doing so will lead to greatness.
The Rudy Ruettiger Story
My favorite example of self-denial leading to greatness is the story of Rudy Reuttiger, popularized in the movie Rudy. Rudy dedicated himself as a player on the practice squad of the Notre Dame football team for two years without the slightest external reward. Even before he got to that point, Rudy had to persevere through multiple rejection letters just to get into Notre Dame. When he was finally accepted to Notre Dame, Rudy trained hard, walked on to the football team, and miraculously made the team even though he had “hardly a speck of athletic ability.” Finally during the last game of his senior year, he was given the opportunity to run through the tunnel and play in a single game (if only for a couple of minutes).
It’s no surprise that Rudy is one of the greatest sports movies of all time. Rudy embodies the grit we all need to meet our goals. He denied himself in so many ways. Through injury, failures, rejection, and doubters, he persevered. He could have quit a thousand times, but he didn’t.
A Scratch Golfer Recognizes The Problem of Instant Gratification
The problem is that most of us are not like Rudy. We are all suckers for instant gratification. Marketing messages promote the idea that if you eat this burger or buy that car, you will be so fantastically happy and life will be perfect. Deep down these messages speak to our inborn desire to experience pleasure…now!
But these marketing lies give us the false hope that life will be easier and better when we give in to our impulses.
As a society, we give into our impulses with hardly a second thought, which explains why we keep getting fatter and deeper into debt. Nearly 70% of adults in the U.S. are now overweight or obese, and according to NerdWallet‘s 2015 data, the average American household has $15,762 in credit card debt. Yikes!
Both of these scary problems stem from the same source: giving in to instant gratification impulses! Please excuse the mini-tirade here, but do you really think that posting calories on a fast food menu is going to make us less fat?!
No! Because it doesn’t address the core problem. The core problem is not knowledge of calories in a Big Mac meal. Most people with half a brain know that a Big Mac meal is a vile choice for lunch. It’s the mindset that relishes instant gratification and giving in to impulses that needs fixing. This is a much harder problem to tackle as a society, but totally doable as an individual.
Dang! That Big Mac looks delicious! As I write this, it’s about 9:30 p.m. and I’m not particularly hungry, but I must admit that I’ve thought about driving to the nearest McD’s which is only about 2 miles from my house, so this deliciousness with 3 hot buns can be mine!!
A Scratch Golfer Learns to Love the Process, Not the Result
I remember when I first decided I was going to be a scratch golfer. I was a 12-handicap and the lowest round I ever shot was an 84. Improvement in golf does not come quickly. Going from shooting 84 to 72 is a daunting task. I had to learn to love the process of getting better, not just the ultimate end goal if I was going to achieve my dream.
And that’s exactly what I did. I practiced when I didn’t feel like it. I hit bunker shots – the weakest part of my game – when I would rather hit my driver. I worked with my teacher on a swing change that initially made it difficult to even hit the ball. I practiced my chipping until it got dark because I knew that’s what would lower my scores…even if by only a stroke or two a round.
The key here that few people ever realize is that there is pleasure in denying yourself. The pleasure comes from working hard toward your goal, seeing small improvements along the way, and moving ever closer to your dreams of being a scratch golfer (or otherwise) knowing that it was through hard work and tenacity.
Learn to Deny Yourself
Matthew Kelly said it best in his book Rediscover Jesus:
Nothing will influence your success or failure at anything more than your ability (and willingness) to delay gratification. You cannot have a successful marriage without it, not can your personal finances thrive. I cannot think of a noble career in which you can succeed without it, nor can you maintain a high level of physical health. You cannot successfully parent your children without it, and you cannot develop or maintain a vibrant spiritual life without it.
The ability to delay gratification, to deny yourself, is an essential life skill. So develop the habit of denying yourself in small ways a dozen times a day. Each time you deny yourself is a spiritual exercise, a spiritual push-up that strengthens the soul…Have a glass of water when you would rather have a Coke. Force yourself to work out when you would rather not. Take the long way home when you are impatient to get home. Have the fish when you are craving the steak. Wait five minutes before doing something you want to do right now.
Quick story about this book…They were giving these books out for free at my church. I’m not going to not take a free book, but I was skeptical. Most of the free books I’ve acquired over the years are quite terrible. There’s usually a good reason why they are free.
To my surprise, this book is practical, thought-provoking, and action-oriented. I highly recommend it!
Whether your dream is to play on tour, be a scratch golfer, or break 90, you will begin to make real progress when, and only when you shift your mindset. Make a decision today to deny yourself every day and take pride in your self-denial!