Seek Reward and Joy, Not Deprivation

We all have

  • Habits we don’t like that we want to break
  • Habits we think we’ll like that we want to start
  • Foods we want to avoid
  • Foods we want to eat more of
  • Skills we want to learn
  • All sorts of things we want to change about our lives…


The classic case is the chocolate cake in front of us that, when it wasn’t in front of us we said we wouldn’t eat and we know we’ll regret eating it later, but we feel the impulse to eat it.

We know the value of controlling our impulses.

We might know how impulse control correlates with success in nearly every measure in life.

We have a lifetime of regretting eating the cake, feeling complacent, like we gave up. Maybe even self-pity and helplessness. We know of countless heroes and role models throughout history who became heroes and role models by doing what we want if we just don’t give in.

We want better lives for ourselves, and we know not eating the chocolate cake is the key. But we let our impulses seduce us into eating it.

How many times do you have to give in and regret it before you decide to fix the complacency in your life, stop giving in, and take control?

The answer is not to rely on willpower in the moment, though it helps.

The answer is to live your life all the time so the temptation doesn’t come up. So you have healthy food in front of you. To prepare when you aren’t tempted.

One simple key is to choose to believe all the time, not just when the cake is in front of you, that living by your values improves your life. So that every choice you make sets you up to succeed, not to face these challenges.

Make choices when you aren’t tempted so you don’t get into situations where you feel tempted.

Create beliefs so that when you see chocolate cake, you see sugar, fat, fat on you, panting and wheezing to go up stairs, regret and disappointment in yourself, dying early, not seeing your children or grandchildren get old, and things like that because that’s what you’re getting in the long run for a few moments of physical pleasure.

Create beliefs so when you think of pushing the cake away or walking away from it, you see fitness, health, joy, reward, accomplishment, an easier time the next time, enjoying fruit and vegetables, actively playing with your children and grandchildren, and things like that because that’s what you get when you embrace and act on what you want.

Substitute any long-term anything you value over a short-term trade and you get the same dynamic.

Create meaning and reward in every choice you make and your life becomes what you want, something you love, not pity and regret.

Prepare all the time to live by your values and with a little practice you feel reward all the time. Everything gets easier. And you’ll find that even the short-term pleasure you thought you were giving up… you’ll find even more of it. There is more pleasure in eating fruit than chocolate cake, in sipping fine wine than getting drunk, and so on.

Our world has become full of ads and messages of people trying to tempt you away from a simple, rewarding, happy life that is easier to live. Most of the population believes the messages and chooses ice cream and cookies over their values.

It’s not worth it. Not only does your conscience never go away, no matter how much ice cream you eat, not only do these temptations undermine your health, but the reward and joy of living by your values is better, by your own values!

Before long you’ll see people living how you used to with pity. Well, you’ll probably see them with compassion, but their behavior with pity and disgust.

Professor of NYU
Joshua Spodek co-founded and led several ventures. He coaches and teaches leadership, entrepreneurship, sales, and related skills at Columbia Business School and NYU using experiential, project-based learning. He holds five Ivy League degrees, including an Astrophysics PhD and an MBA, and studied under a Nobel Laureate. He helped build an X-ray satellite for the European Space Agency and NASA, and holds six patents. His current passion is developing methods to master business's soft skills, even for geeks like him.