Instant Gratification, Delayed Gratification, or Enjoying the Process

IMG_0185I enjoy gardening and the amaryllis have been blooming lately. You probably are familiar with this flower even if you don’t recognize the name. Amaryllis are sold every Christmas as large bulbs with similarly large trumpet-shaped blooms in various colors, often red or white. They’re one of my favorite flowers and they’re easy to grow in the yard here in Florida. So I often buy them cheaply after the winter holidays and plant them outside. I’ve got quite a few in the ground.

After blooming, the plants make large numbers of seeds, and two weeks ago I decided it would be fun to grow my own from seed. Never having done it before, I investigated several sprouting techniques on the web. The good news is that amaryllis seeds are not too hard to start. The bad news, however, is that it takes about five years for the seedlings to grow big enough to produce a flower. Bummer. My next thought was, Am I willing to wait that long?

Well, yes. Good things come to those who wait. Pretty quickly though I realized that I wouldn’t really be waiting because I just like growing plants in general. I enjoy the whole process – following the steps to germinate the seeds, nurturing the seedlings, watching the little plants grow from day-to-day and week-to-week, and repotting them as indicated. Truthfully, I’m going to have quite a bit of enjoyment for the five years before I ever get a flower!

A lot of goals in life are like that, or they can be, if we choose to simply enjoy the process. Most good things in life take effort, often difficult or painful effort. A habit of instant gratification doesn’t get you very far towards the most desirable outcomes. Being healthy and well is one you should want, and it’s certainly not compatible with self-indulgence.

Delayed gratification is a necessary strategy for wellbeing. “No pain, no gain,” as the saying goes. If you can push away from the dessert table, endure the physical discomfort of vigorous exercise, and face the pain of working though emotional distress in the moment, then you can make progress towards a healthy body and mind. Unfortunately it often doesn’t last. Perhaps the goal is too big, or too far away, or the process too painful and it seems that “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.”

However, there is a third way, enjoying the process. If you can enjoy eating healthy foods, you don’t really miss the sweets so much. When exercise becomes pleasant, you look forward to working out because it feels good at the time. It’s great place to be, making progress towards your goals and being happy along the way. Perhaps we could call it “continuous gratification.”

Can you learn to do this? Yes. I did. The secret is accepting the difficulty, even welcoming the difficulty and sticking with your plan. We learn to like the foods we repeatedly eat. As we connect the hardness of the exercise with the pleasant feeling of vigor it brings, we learn to enjoy that too.   It’s a paradox, but when you “embrace the suck,” it stops sucking.

Scott Peck put it this way in the opening words of his classic book, The Road Less Traveled.

Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.

When you can see this, you can do the difficult things and enjoy the process.

In the grand scheme of things, growing amaryllis isn’t all that hard (but look at all the thinking it started for me) and I did plant the seeds. First I floated them in a tray of water inside for about a week until a tiny root developed in each seed. Then I moved them to a seed starter tray with very moist potting mix, and today, a few days later, I have my first tiny leaves coming up! Very exciting! I’ve got five years of fun ahead – with pretty flowers at the end of it!

What seeds should you be sowing?

Only 5 years to go!

Only 5 years to go!