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I learned to pull back.

"Always give them something to look forward to," the instructor said. "My grandfather taught me that, but I think we have to go a step further." They wanted us to experiment on ourselves.

"Try not giving yourselves everything you want," I was told. "Stop just short of full satisfaction. Save something for the next time. Learn to first give yourself something to look forward to." They told us it would help propel us from one day to the next, one week to the next.

"And the next time you come back to it, whatever it is, never finish until you've scheduled something else you're looking forward to for the next time. The easiest way is to partially deprive yourself, but if you are creative enough to come up with something new each time, then it's fine to save that for the next time."

They were teaching us to create dissatisfaction in an intentional way, a way that led to anticipation. "Don't finish watching that TV series until you know what you'll watch next time. Don't finish that tub of ice cream until you have some other dessert in mind for the next time."

It was a way of creating artificial hope I suppose. There would always be something positive scheduled for the future, even if we had to spend extra hours trying to figure out what it was. "Imagine if you had nothing to look forward to. What would your day be like then?"

They would then teach us to try to apply it to other aspects of our lives, including how we related to others. "Never tell them the ending to your story," they would tell us, "not without starting a new one to be finished later. It's fine to give them 90% this time, but save 10% for later. And when you're back, return with something else you can provide 90% of. Assuming you want them to keep coming back of course. If not, just give them what they want, send them on their way, with no reason to ever return."

I suppose they used the same tactics to hook their students into the classes they were giving. But as time went on, they did not charge their returning students the same fees anymore. No question they still wanted us to come back, but they were trying to build a sense of goodwill and loyalty among their graduates. As long as we kept coming back, they could be assured that there would always be a group of students who wanted to see their school continue, even if they no longer paid formal tuition.

Some returned to help staff the facility, others to help in various unofficial ways during small emergencies or brief periods of difficulty. And yes, we did all look forward to going back there. That was one of their specialties after all. We didn't mind it. If nobody else could motivate us as much as they could, it just meant we were happier going there than anywhere else.

It did help improve the day-to-day living of many of us, and I'd like to believe they helped save many relationships that would otherwise have been doomed to boredom. "Quit while you're ahead," they'd say, or "Never leave on a down note. Keep the anticipation going while you're gone, wherever it is you're going, even if it's just to sleep."

But we had to work at it. Coming up with things for the future wasn't always easy, particularly for those who had already done so much together. Fortunately we could usually find allies who could help us come up with ideas. But if creativity failed, we would only ever get close to our goals, but never quite reach them, not if we only covered 90% of the remaining ground each time.

Sometimes we did have to slow ourselves down. Funny enough, it didn't always seem to matter. Even with progress at a crawl, it sometimes just made each step all the more special, something even more important to be savored. Maybe the slow times helped to reset our own boredom receptors, make them ready to be sensitive to small victories once again.

Ultimately, we were prolonging our journeys with intentional delays. But I think the anticipation it added between stops was worth it. It gave us something nice to occupy our minds while we waited, rather than abandon us to thoughts of things we weren't sure we would ever have.

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