Here's what you need to know...

  1. Think of your goal. Now, are you doing what you need to do to reach it, or just doing what you like to do?
  2. Try the Delayed Gratification Method: Do the right thing, get a reward. Slack off in the gym or with your diet, no reward.
  3. This isn't about "good versus bad." It's about identifying behaviors that take you further away from your goals or displace more productive behaviors.

What You Want to Do vs. What You Need to Do

Ah, that eternal struggle: the battle between doing what you like to do, and doing what you need to do. We've all been there. In fact, most of us stay there throughout our lifting careers.

If you recognize this dilemma in yourself, take heart. At least you're aware of your shortcomings and that's half the battle. Some lifters never even get this far. They simply do whatever feels good or boosts the ego, and that's as far as their personal development ever goes.

If you'd like to further your athletic evolution, however, answer this question:

What qualities, attributes, or behaviors should you be focusing on in your training?

A second question: Are these the behaviors that you truly prioritize in your training? Often, our default programming is to do what we like, rather than what we need.

"Fun" vs. Results


Now don't get me wrong. Having fun is one of the most under-appreciated benefits of weight training. In fact, having fun is genuinely important to long-term training success.

The problem arises when having fun gets in the way of working hard on those things that advance you toward your most important goals. Here are a few hypothetical scenarios:

  • You spend most of your quality training time chasing new 1RM's when you've got chronic orthopedic issues that threaten to sideline you in the very near future.
  • You have impressive "gym numbers" that you've never replicated in official competition.
  • Your body comp is abysmal and yet your diet is still a mess.
  • You have circus-level wobble-board skills but can't do a single pull-up.
  • Your paused bench press is 90 pounds less than your "touch and go" bench.

If you recognize yourself in one of the above scenarios, my sole consolation for you is that it's only human nature - we all tend to savor what we do best and avoid what we do worst.

Deliberate Practice

The opposite of this is what pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell calls "deliberate practice."

Gladwell's research indicates that it takes 10,000 hours of this thankless toil to reach a high level of proficiency in your chosen craft. To put that in numbers you can more readily appreciate, if you train 4 times a week at 90 minutes per workout, you'd have to train for over 32 years in order to attain mastery. And that's only if you're employing deliberate practice, which you're probably not.

Deliberate practice is characterized in three ways:

  1. Focusing on processes instead of outcomes.
  2. Setting specific goals.
  3. Obtaining immediate quality feedback and using it.

Enter The Delayed Gratification Method

Now even if you've been exposed to this information, it's difficult to continuously perform deliberate practice, because by definition it requires attending to your weak points while putting your strengths on the back burner.

Admittedly, that isn't all that much fun - until much later of course, when you start collecting your medals amidst hushed rumors of your supposed good genetics and steroid use.

There's a strategy to get you to do the right things in training. It's a way to make deliberate practice more palatable. I call it the Delayed Gratification Method (DGM).

Your parents no doubt implemented this exact system at mealtime when you were a kid. If you ate your dinner, you got dessert. No dinner, no dessert. The gist of it is simple: if you do the right thing, you get a reward. If you slack off, no reward.

You'll first need to determine two things:

  1. What's "the right thing" for you to be doing right now?
  2. What's an appropriate reward for your good behavior?

Here are a few applications of the DGM method that address common problems, just to spark your thinking on the subject:

Problem: You're too skinny. And although you love to train, you just can't seem to put on any weight. Sure, you have abs, but that's like a fat chick with boobs - who cares?

Solution: Set an appropriate weight-gain goal (perhaps a pound a week) and get to eating like it's your job. Each workout starts with a weigh-in. If your weight isn't where it needs to be, you don't train that day. If it is, you can enjoy your lifting session knowing that it's taking you toward, rather than away from, your goals.

Problem: You love to lift, but absolutely despise mobility work. For the first few years, everything was great, but lately you're experiencing shoulder pain while benching and you're having trouble squatting down to parallel.

Solution: Let's assume here that you're not even sure how to identify your biggest mobility hot spots. Don't use that as an excuse. Why not simply pick a well-documented mobility circuit, such as Mike Boyle's Essential Eight. These 8 drills only take 5-10 minutes, so resolve to do them before each and every workout and then you can knock yourself out with the weights completely guilt free.

Problem: You can bench more than you can squat, and yesterday you noticed that some douchetard stole a gym pic of you for a meme that says, "Friends don't let friends skip leg day!"

Solution: For you, leg training needs to be analogous to "eating your vegetables," while upper body lifting is more like having dessert.

Essentially, you'll need a measurable way to define "what you need to do" as a way of creating permission for you to do what you want to do. One suggestion would be to keep track of your weekly lower body volume, and then restrict your upper body training to half of that number. You wanna do more upper body work? Then do more lower body work.

The applications of this system are virtually limitless. Additionally, the system is flexible enough to change as your needs change. The DGM method can be applied to diet as well. For example, if/when you reach a body composition milestone, you get a cheat meal.

Making DGM Work For You

1 – Make a list of your unproductive habits, behaviors, or tendencies.

This isn't about "good versus bad." It's just a matter of identifying behaviors that either take you further away from your goals or that tend to displace more productive behaviors.

Your list might include things like staying up too late the night before workouts, eating too many junk carbs, always focusing on maximum singles when your weakness is lack of hypertrophy, spending too much time on "fun" exercises that don't take you closer to your goal, being too reliant on support gear, or neglecting a mobility issue.

2 – Determine the reward.

Again, I like the dessert analogy here. As long as you get your work accomplished, you get to have a little bit of fun. Really, it's just a personification of the principle of delayed gratification.

3 – Develop quantifiable parameters.

If you do this, then you get to do that. Make sure you define these parameters carefully so there's no wiggle room for cheating.

Finally, if you have a coach, training partner, or group that you train with, alert them to what you're up to and ask them to help keep you honest. Social support often makes all the difference when you're pursuing challenging goals.

Tip: If you decide to give the delayed gratification method a shot, then initially apply it toward only one behavior or habit that you'd like to modify for the better.

Now, where do you need to improve?

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook