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Overcoming Instant Gratification
A SOCIETAL ISSUE
If I was asked to outline the defining characteristics of today's society, instant gratification would undoubtedly be one of the first to come to mind.
What is it?
“The temptation, and resulting tendency to forego a future benefit in order to obtain a less rewarding but more immediate benefit”.
Whether it be placing an order an amazon & the package turning up at your doorstep a few hours later, frequently opting for a night out on the town over a solid night's sleep, or ordering a greasy takeaway instead of making a wholesome meal, our society is a breeding ground for instantly gratifying decision making.
It’s a natural human urge to want ‘good’ things and to want them immediately. This undoubtedly stems from the evolutionary advantage it brings - at a time when all that mattered was immediate survival (starvation was a bigger threat than obesity) it made sense to make decisions based on the short rather than long-term.
But in present times, with much of our basic necessities covered, the tendency to make short-sighed, impulsive decisions rarely brings about positive outcomes.
The opposite of instant gratification is delayed gratification - the ability to forego an immediately pleasurable experience or desire in order to gain a greater future benefit or outcome. Being able to demonstrate delayed gratification - across all aspects of life - brings undoubted benefits.
To provide an example, you might be familiar with the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment:
In the study, several children were offered a choice between one small but immediate reward - a marshmallow -, or two small rewards - two marshmallows - if they waited for a period of time. During this time, the researcher left the child alone in the room with the single marshmallow, for about 15 minutes.
Some children were simply unable to withhold their urges, eating the marshmallow the minute the researcher left. Others found ways to distract themselves & resist the temptation for the whole 15 minutes.
Recreations of the study have since been carried out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX_oy9614HQ
Forty years later, some follow up research was carried out. Those who’d waited for the researcher to return - they exhibited delayed gratification - had far fewer behavioral problems, excelled in stressful situations, had lower body mass indexes, lower divorce rates, and far higher SAT scores.
HOW DOES IT RELATE TO HEALTH?
Our health is directly defined by our day-to-day choices. When our decisions are completely governed by the desire for instant gratification, it’s almost inevitable that health will suffer as a consequence. The inability to resist our immediate desires leads us down a slippery slope of ill-health. How so, exactly?
When we’re unwilling to practice delayed gratification, our behaviour is adjusted accordingly.
Rather than opting for healthful & nutritious meals, we instead consume foods that bring us immediate pleasure - typically less healthy options, in excessive quantities.
Instead of committing to physical activity, we lounge around on the sofa watching Netflix or scrolling through social media.
Rather than getting a solid nights sleep, we go out & drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
All-in-all, we forego behaviours that are conducive to our well-being, opting instead for short-term pleasurable actions. We know full-well the harm we’re doing to ourselves in the process, but continue to do it anyway.
When we do this repeatedly over time, our health becomes seriously compromised & breaking the cycle becomes increasingly more challenging.
BUILDING DELAYED GRATIFICATION
So what can actually be done to challenge these ingrained behavioural patterns? Well, here's a few suggestions.
Consider your future-self.
When we’re caught up in our desire for that immediately pleasurable action or food, we can temporarily lose awareness of our future-self. When you find yourself being compelled towards instant gratification, take a minute & reflect upon how your future-self will feel - will you be happy that you made this decision, or will you wish you could’ve just practiced delayed gratification? Your future mental state is a very real thing, yet something that a lot of people fail to consider.
Break goals down.
Once you’ve outlined some goals of where you’d like to be, it’s important to break these down into micro-behaviours. Reason being is that while macro-goals are highly important for a sense of direction & motivation, they can seem distant and therefore be overwhelming. Break your overall goal(s) into manageable behaviours that you can implement on a daily basis. Focus on executing these behaviours routinely & taking each day as it comes. Don’t get caught up on your long-term goal(s), simply use them as a general point of direction.
Be clear on your values.
Make a list of the values by which you want to live your life by; a set of character traits that govern your daily decision making. Any time you find yourself having to make a decision that brings your values into question, remind yourself of the self-agreement you've made. Decide who you want to be & aim your efforts towards it relentlessly.
Make the process of change easier for yourself. Commit to the behaviours you want to introduce/avoid & make decisions ahead of time. This could mean blocking out an hour in your diary for daily exercise/physical activity, or it could be a case of making a conscious decision not to eat those unhealthy snacks. Write down a list of behaviours that you're keen to implement or avoid. Build consistent routine in your life & outline some non-negotiables.
WHAT IT TAKES
Ultimately, if you wish to break the cycle of instant gratification, you need to recognise your current behaviours that exhibit it & bring them to a halt. Simple, but not easy. It's difficult to give up these ingrained habits without good reason; they bring pleasure whilst 'better' behaviours don't.
So, it's key to take the time to think about how you'll life will pan out if you continue with these detrimental behaviours - is this how you'd like your life to be? If not, then outline what your ideal life would look like - what behaviours would it consist of, how would you feel?
Now you have a framework to work with. Adjust your behaviours in-line with this framework & begin the journey towards your desired state of being.
Christian Lawal Personal Training.
Personal training in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge & Sevenoaks.