A lot of the time, waiting for something we want is no fun. People don’t like to wait. To be honest, it feels good to get what we want—immediately. That being said, there is also the satisfaction of getting a reward or result that we’ve waited a long time for—especially if we’ve worked hard and put in a lot of effort. This kind of satisfaction is far more gratifying than what we get from something short-lived or that required little effort on our part. It’s not that you should strive for only one or the other, but many of us have difficulty waiting for a long-term result. Instead, we tend to prefer the quick and easy reward.
If your life is starting to feel like it’s out of control, then maybe you’ve been giving in a little too much to instant gratification. This could present itself in a variety of ways, such as an eating disorder or dependence on gambling, substances, or something else. If you’re experiencing problems like this, then know that you are not alone. The experts at BetterHelp have been able to help people who are struggling with impulse control. If you’re ever in need, then you can reach out to them, so you can get your life back on track. Take a look at the information below to learn more about why abandoning your need for immediate gratification is important for leading a fulfilling life.
What Is Immediate Gratification?
Immediate gratification means getting what you want right away—or at least within a very short time frame. For many animals, humans included, it makes sense for our instincts to steer us in the direction of seeking immediate gratification. In pre-civilization times, finding food or shelter as quickly as possible was often key to survival and took priority over long-term solutions. Early humans needed to avoid starvation or a predator immediately. Over time, we have evolved, and this is no longer a need. But the desire remains lodged in our psyches.
Immediate Gratification Bias
We are wired to look for a quick and easy solution rather than thinking about long-term results. This is called an immediate gratification bias. Putting off a reward or positive results to get a better long-term outcome is a learned behavior that humans have to make a conscious effort to achieve. That’s why children tend to look for solutions that get them what they want right now. They seldom think about future consequences or rewards. You may have heard of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, in which pre-school children of about four years old were asked whether they’d rather have one marshmallow right now or two marshmallows later. In the children’s case, waiting until later meant an extra fifteen minutes before they got the treat. Most of the children answered that they wanted the one marshmallow immediately, even though they would get fewer in the long run.
On the one hand, this behavior makes sense, because we can’t always trust what the future brings. The future of marshmallows is uncertain. If we’re hunting or gathering food, the food we find now is a sure bet. The experiment, set in modern society, found that as the children grew into teenagers and adults, those who exhibited better self-control tended to have better health, higher test scores in school, and better social skills. They also tended to make better life decisions.
It’s similar for adults. When we have the choice between spending money now or investing and growing it for later, many of us go with spending. We know that investing can have a big payoff. We also know that there’s no guarantee that either the money or ourselves will exist in the future. Many of us, however, go too far in the extreme of spending. Likely, the best route is somewhere in the middle—between gratifying some urges and practicing self-control.
Don’t let the facts of the Marshmallow Experiment get you down. If you tend to have little self-control, these steps can help you make progress.
Why Can Immediate Gratification Be Damaging?
Immediate gratification is a broad term that can be applied to a variety of different impulses. What effects it has depends on which impulses you’re acting on. What we know for sure is that constantly getting things instantaneously makes people less patient, and patience is necessary for some of the most important aspects of our lives: social interaction and relationships. Here are a few of the other areas where lack of self-control can end up damaging your life.
Planning for your future requires the ability to shift your attention away from immediate rewards. Individuals who can think about the future benefits of accumulating assets tend to be in better financial situations as their lives progress.
Eating whatever was available was great for our ancestors. They didn’t know when they might get to eat again. Unfortunately, many of us still have that primitive urge to eat whenever food is available. But now, food is available almost constantly. It’s probably not uncertain when or where you will find your next meal. Eating is enjoyable, but the health results of constantly indulging are less so.
Creativity and Life Goals
You only have so much time in the day. When you postpone the things that would get you to your long-term goals in favor of something that can hold your interest easily, you end up trading your future for tiny moments of satisfaction. For instance, playing a video game can be quite satisfying. But if it takes time away from practicing a skill that would improve your hobby or career, then it may not be the best trade-off for a satisfying life.
Learning any topic or skill requires patience and practice. The only way to master anything is to practice it over and over again. But if you expect immediate results, you’re not going to put in the effort it takes to ever get good at something.
If you’ve become accustomed to getting everything you want instantly, then you may grow to lack patience. In certain circumstances, that can mean losing out on opportunities. For instance, if you start a new job, it takes time and a steady effort to achieve raises and promotions.
But if you go into it expecting a pat on the back for everything you do and to rise to the top immediately, you’re going to lose motivation quickly. The external motivation of positive reinforcement from a supervisor or co-workers is an instant reward. Unfortunately, when we count on others to provide our motivation, we are often let down. Developing self-control and internal motivation provides longer-lasting results. Immediate gratification gives you a very small reward for little work. But sticking with your goals long-term can result in a more fulfilling career.
Immediate Gratification And Relationships
As with many other aspects of our lives, relationships and how we pursue them have also changed. Many different apps are available to help you meet new people, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s like the digital version of speed dating—with less embarrassment. The problem comes when we try to build a meaningful connection based on those fleeting bits of conversation. Even text messages are not equivalent to having real face-to-face discussions with another person. We can fall into the trap of feeling connected with a person before we’ve met them.
This is especially problematic for the generations who have grown up with digital communication always readily available. With the increase in text message conversations, social skills tend to decline. A person who can have a fluent text conversation may be extremely shy and awkward when they try to have a real conversation. This may be because they are not accustomed to communicating with people in that way. The truth of the matter is that building a relationship takes time. You can’t just swipe right on an app, text the person for a few days, and then assume that when you meet you’ll both be instantly connected and have a meaningful foundation for a relationship.
Yes, reading each other’s profiles and texting to learn more about each other can be great ways to get to know a new person. But that is just the beginning. It’s important to remember that the length of a relationship is not the best measure of its success. An ended relationship is not a failure; it’s a learning experience. If a relationship isn’t meant to be, it’s better to end it or let it progress slowly rather than try to make it permanent prematurely. In sexual relationships, it’s also important to remember that sex often leads to feelings. Being sexually intimate with someone can sometimes fool us into thinking there is more to the relationship than there is.
Here’s the part where the need for immediate gratification messes up relationships. Once you’ve made that connection you sought, the slightest problem will make someone with poor impulse control abandon the relationship. They won’t give it the time and effort it requires to see if it will work. That means that individuals who seek immediate gratification from their encounters in relationships may have difficulty forming a lasting bond with someone else.
Why Do We Crave Instant Gratification?
Not getting the thing we desire causes anxiety, even if the thing we’re craving is not important to our survival. It makes sense to develop anxiety when food sources are unreliable, but it doesn’t make sense to become anxious because a package you ordered arrived one day later than expected. Unfortunately, our minds tend to respond in similar ways to both situations. This isn’t helpful. Putting in the effort right away to get access to an easy food source would be beneficial both to the individual and the social group of primitive humans. But blowing up at your partner because you’re annoyed that your package didn’t arrive isn’t beneficial for either of you. Furthermore, blowing up at a co-worker because you’re anxiously waiting for a phone call you haven’t received yet may allow you to feel a little better for 30 seconds. But it can strain the working relationship for a much longer time.
The thing to understand is that our brains rarely ever go completely one way or the other when weighing short-term versus long-term benefits. When you think about spending that money now or saving it, your brain struggles over what the right decision is.
How Can You Delay Gratification?
So far, we’ve focused primarily on immediate gratification and its effects. The other side of the coin is a delay of gratification. The ability to delay gratification is also called impulse control. Often, delaying gratification results in bigger rewards and even more satisfaction in the end. But patience takes training. So, how can we learn to become more patient and gain those bigger payoffs?
Different methods for delaying gratification work for different people, and various types may work better for the same individual in different situations. You may even find that you need to employ multiple methods of self-control to maintain your goals and not give in. Here are some ways to bring about and practice delayed gratification.
Distracting yourself from the thing you want or crave is one of the most effective ways to increase your self-control. If you’re working on healthier eating, trying to divert your attention away from a slice of cheesecake to the salad you’ll be having for dinner may not be the best bet for abstaining from the treat.
But distracting yourself with something unrelated to food might work. The distraction method works best when you think about something else pleasurable. For instance, instead of thinking about the cheesecake, think about how much fun you’re going to have playing frisbee or going to the museum later. Or listen to some music to take your mind off eating. You could even start a different activity that pleases you, such as going for a walk or running.
Another way to train your mind to stop a bad habit that relies on immediate gratification is to imagine what your life would be like if you continue to follow that path. If you can’t stop eating sugary foods every day, imagine what it would be like if you develop diabetes. If you’re trying to quit smoking, imagine what it would be like to be treated for lung cancer. These are unpleasant things to imagine, but they may just be the motivation you need to stop eating junk and smoking cigarettes. You are trading immediate satisfaction for long-term health benefits.
This one is fairly easy. Instead of thinking about all the things that excite you about a particular urge or indulgence, think about its objective characteristics. If you’re considering blowing a large sum of money on concert tickets, calculate what portion of your disposable income that cost takes up. Think about what other expenses might be associated with the concert, like transportation and food. You should consider your long-term financial goals and how this expense affects them.
Of course, learning patience and self-control can help you build better relationships with all the people in your life. If you have tried the steps outlined above but still need help learning to control your need for immediate gratification, a certified therapist can help you learn the skills you need to reach your goals.
This may be easier said than done. Finding a counselor, making an appointment, and working around your schedule can be difficult. Consider online counselors, such as the ones at BetterHelp. Online therapy was growing in popularity before the outbreak of the coronavirus closed many in-person treatment options. Now that most mental health counseling occurs remotely, online platforms have begun providing an indispensable service. During the early days of teletherapy, it’s true that technology issues provided some hiccups. But these methods have now been in development for years. Any wrinkles that once existed have been smoothed over, and mental health providers agree that online counseling can satisfactorily replicate the effects of in-person treatment.
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Immediate gratification can be satisfying in the short term, but it isn’t always going to be what is best for you. You can learn to make positive choices that are better for your health and overall well-being. If you ever have issues or struggle along the way, then you’ll always have allies on your side who can help you out. Take the first step today.