How to Overcome Instant Gratification and Make Better Choices
Before January 2020 even comes to an end, most people will have given up on their annual commitments to themselves.
According to research by Strava, a social network and activity tracking service for athletes, data shows a significant decline in activity on January 12th, indicating that people start giving up on their resolutions in less than two weeks after New Year.
You know what you want in your life and you know what you need to do to get it. But you can't seem to get there.
Why is it so hard to stay committed to your goals, even when you are fully aware of the long-term benefits?
The answer is instant gratification.
Instant (immediate) gratification is the desire to experience the pleasurable emotional reaction in response to a fulfillment of a desire without delay or deferment.
"The obsession with instant gratification blinds us from our long-term potential".
Some of the examples of instant gratification include:
The desire to indulge in foods high in fat and sugar instead of eating healthier meals
The urge to hit a snooze button instead of getting up early to exercise
The temptation to stay up late watching TV or browsing social media instead of going to bed earlier
Instant gratification can be explained by the "pleasure principle." The pleasure principle is the driving force behind human instinct to avoid pain and seek pleasure to satisfy biological and psychological needs.
Sigmund Freud contrasted the pleasure principle with the reality principle, which describes the ability to assess the reality of the external world and act upon it accordingly. This principle allows individuals to defer gratification of a desire.
Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.
For example, if you follow a diet and choose to skip dessert after a meal, you are guided by a reality principle. However, if you decide to give in to the unhealthy cravings and eat that dessert, you are following the pleasure principle, which provides only short-term satisfaction and ruins your diet.
Both the reality principle and pleasure principle pursue personal gratification, but the reality principle is more focused on the long-term and it is more goal-oriented, while the pleasure principle focuses on the instant fulfillment of a desire.
It's easy to see why delayed gratification can bring numerous benefits, but we still struggle on a daily basis with the temptation to give in to our immediate desires.
"Be careful not to compromise what you want most for what you want now".
We all find ourselves distracted from our long-term goals and commitments by spending time on more enjoyable short-term activities.
Each of us likely struggles with these daily urges to give in to desires for easy and immediate pleasures.
If you constantly give in to your impulses, it can lead to poor habits and keep you from achieving your long-term aspirations.
If you constantly suppress your desires, it can result in resentment and dissatisfaction.
You want to find the balance between recklessness and rigid self-control.
You want to find the balance between instant gratification and long-term satisfaction from staying on track with your goals, personal growth and self-improvement.
Balance does not mean that you focus on your goals all the time and ignore all short-term pleasures. Those pleasures could be an important part of your life and you won't feel fulfilled if all your short-term desires are constantly restricted.
Your goal is to improve your ability to choose how you want to respond to your impulses. This will empower you to make better choices.
"Mastery of impulse is all about self-discipline and choice. The mind is a powerful tool with which we have the ability to be in control of ourselves."
Below are three steps to deal with instant gratification and make more conscious decisions that would benefit you in the long run.
1) Become aware of your impulses to immediate gratification and delay your actions
Throughout the day, we all experience urges to check email or social media, cravings for foods high in sugar and fats, impulses to procrastinate or find distractions.
Instead of immediately acting on an impulse when it arises, take a pause. Create some space between your urge and your action. Take a deep breath and slowly count to ten.
2) Make conscious choices about how you want to manage your urges
In any given situation, you have control over yourself, in particular your thoughts and your actions. It's up to you decide how you want to respond to your impulses.
Take a minute to weigh the consequences of giving in to your impulse or overcoming your craving. Think about which choice supports the desired results that you want.
Even if you decide to give in to your impulses once in a while, that's perfectly fine (as long as you are not following every urge). Making conscious choices instead of just trying to gratify your wants will help you make healthier decisions.
3) Accept your choices and enjoy the moment
Once you make a choice, accept it and enjoy the moment. There is no point in beating yourself up about a conscious choice.
You can eat that candy, or you can take a deep breath, pass on it, and enjoy an apple. Both choices can be enjoyable. One is healthier. Either decision can lead to equal happiness if it's done consciously.
There will be times when you give in to your urges. That's completely fine. We all do it. There's nothing wrong with giving in sometimes, but the key is to see how you feel afterwards.
Acknowledge the times when you wish you made a different choice.
Recognize the times when you are able to resist temptation and avoid instant gratification.
Over time, your decisions will get better if you pay attention to how they make you feel.
It's within your power to make conscious choices that would enable you to follow your commitments and lead to health, focus, achievements and satisfaction with your life.
"You are the person who has to decide. Whether you'll do it or toss it aside; you are the person who makes up your mind. Whether you'll lead or will linger behind. Whether you'll try for the goal that's afar. Or just be contented to stay where you are."
Edgar A. Guest