You Have To (Choose To) Earn It

I never thought I’d be doing burpees until my fingers bled, but there I was – living the dream.

It was 6:00 pm on Friday, February 26th, 2016.

There were dozens of garbage bags packed in our garage. Each bag filled with clothing donations for Community Living.

A few teammates were coming over for an all-nighter. The plan was to go through the donations and have someone do 15 burpees as a thank-you for every item donated.

Fifteen burpees for a pair of pants. Fifteen burpees for a t-shirt. Fifteen burpees for each and every unmentionable donated… And, oh, there were some unmentionables.

I had no idea what I’d gotten myself, and my team, into. We had a ton of items to count and a ton of burpees to get through. And the donations were being picked up in just 24 hours.

With an enormous task ahead of us, we didn’t have time to strategize. The only thing we could do was grab an item, do our burpees, place the item in the “done” pile, put a check on the board, and repeat.

This was not a pleasurable experience.

Pleasure vs Satisfaction

In his book, Off Balance, author Matthew Kelly touches on the difference between pleasure and satisfaction. He says that pleasure comes quick but doesn’t last. And satisfaction lasts, but it takes effort.

For example, eating a cookie is pleasurable. We enjoy the cookie as we eat it, but as soon as it’s gone, so is the pleasure. Rather than having a lasting beneficial effect, we’re simply left wanting more.

Studying for a final exam, conversely, may not be very pleasurable. However, we’re satisfied once we’ve passed the test. We have a sense of accomplishment and are happy with our decision to study.

I see it this way.

Pleasure is tricking myself into feeling good for the moment. For example:

  • Eating a cookie
  • Laying on the couch watching TV
  • Buying things I want but don’t need

Satisfaction comes from doing something I don’t necessarily want to do now but will pay off later. Things like:

  • Eating broccoli
  • Doing laundry
  • Investing in my retirement

The pleasurable activities are easy. They give us a quick shot of dopamine and make us think we’re happy. The activities that lead to long-lasting satisfaction, though, are difficult. They require effort and are often uncomfortable while we do them.

Pleasure comes quick and easy, but it leaves just the same.

Satisfaction must be earned, but can last a lifetime.

I think deep down we know this. We know the “right” thing to do in most situations, yet we struggle to make that choice.

Because it’s hard.

It’s hard to choose broccoli over pizza. It’s hard to get up off the couch and do the dishes. It’s hard to invest in our retirement rather than buy a new phone.

But more often than not, making that hard choice pays off.

Hard Choices Easy Life

Jerzy Gregorek went from an alcoholic to a world weightlifting champion. He is the co-author of The Happy Body, and is famous for his line, “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”

Another way to think of this is – choose satisfaction now, and life will be better in the future.

By making the hard choice to do the right thing, to choose satisfaction over pleasure, our future selves will benefit. Looking back at our options above (choosing broccoli over pizza, getting up to do the dishes, and investing in our retirement), we see that making the hard choices will leave us healthier, wealthier, and with a kitchen full of clean dishes. Life will be better.

Even though, deep down, we know this, it’s still difficult to make the hard choice.

It’s too easy to find instantaneous pleasure these days. Junk food is available everywhere. And we all walk around with a constant source of immediate gratification in our pockets. Whenever we get bored or come across a challenge, we can just scroll through social media and ignore it.

Choosing pleasure over satisfaction has become an almost unconscious decision. A bad habit we aren’t even aware of.

Putting the phone down is hard. Avoiding donuts in the office is hard. Turning the TV off when Netflix has already started the next episode is hard. But, like Gregorek suggests, making these hard choices will lead to an easier life.

To have the best life we can tomorrow, we need to deliberately make these hard choices today.

24 Hours of Burpees are Hard

After the first hour or so, every single burpee was painful. Agonizing, really.

Picking up a t-shirt and committing to another 15 burpees was a consistently hard choice to make. Taking a break to stretch or eat was always an attractive option, but we had a job to do.

As time went on, we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Most of the donations were in the “done” pile, and it looked like we would pull this thing off. Our commitment to acting instead of resting was paying off.

Because we kept making the hard choice to do another 15 burpees, we were able to finish on time.

Twenty-four hours, and just shy of 34,000 burpees later, we were very satisfied with what we had accomplished.

Sure, we could have spent our Friday night and Saturday doing something else. We could have gone to the bar or movies and enjoyed ourselves. But that’s not something we’d be looking back on with pride. Going out that night instead of doing burpees wouldn’t have brought us satisfaction.

As Kelly wrote in Off Balance, “Satisfaction comes from emptying ourselves into things”.

Well, we truly emptied ourselves into those burpees that day and learned what it meant to make the hard choice and earn our satisfaction.

By fighting the urge to do what was comfortable or seek pleasure, we did something pretty cool. The payoff, the satisfaction, will now last a lifetime.