Do You Struggle with Instant Gratification? You Must Try These 5 Steps

Lynne Cheney

People who grow up without a sense of how yesterday has affected today are unlikely to have a strong sense of how today affects tomorrow.

What is Instant Gratification?

Instant gratification is a habit where you forgo short-term pain that will eventually lead to long-term pleasure and instead indulge in short-term pleasure that might eventually lead to long-term pain. In other words, you find reasons (excuses) not to do something because of the pain it creates in the moment even though you know that this action is necessary to help you attain your long-term goals and objectives.

Instant gratification often manifests as procrastination. It’s a form of self-sabotage where you get caught up indulging in the temptations of life at the cost of your long-term goals. It’s where the pleasures of the moment just seem so much more enticing than the temporary pain you might need to go through to get to your ultimate outcome. And this is why instant gratification rarely gets you what you really want in the long-term.

People caught up within the instant gratification trap often expect to gain something from nothing. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. You need to give something in order to get something back. Whether that involves your time, energy or money, makes no difference. It’s the act of giving that counts. And often this “giving” might feel uncomfortable and painful. However, the pain you experience during these fleeting moments is what will bring you tremendous pleasure in the future when you finally obtain your desired outcomes.

Getting caught up within the instant gratification trap can make you very susceptible to addictions, jealousy, anger and impulsive behavior. It also often leads to higher levels of stress, anxiety and overwhelm in the long-term. In fact, indulging in instant gratification indicates that you lack self-discipline and that you are unable to control your emotional urges. This has significant consequences on your life — resulting in narrow-minded thinking, poor decision-making and planning habits. And probably most importantly, instant gratification results in greater unhappiness and long-term dissatisfaction as you continuously forgo significant long-term benefits for quite insignificant short-term pleasures that come in the form of temptations.

The Instant Gratification Trap

What it Means to Delay Gratification

Delayed gratification is a habit where you forgo short-term pleasure (present comfort) in order to gain significant long-term pleasure and rewards in the future. In other words, you ward off short-term temptations that might distract you from your long-term goals and objectives in order to focus on what you need to do to achieve your desired long-term outcomes. This, of course, might require that you suffer through short-term pain, fully realizing that this pain is only temporary but necessary to help you get to your ultimate destination.

Getting into the habit of delaying gratification gives you more sense of control over your life, decisions, and actions. Furthermore, it helps you value hard work and effort. You understand even though things might be difficult in the present moment, that it’s necessary you get through this pain in order to experience the long-term pleasure you would ultimately like to have in your life.

The act of delaying gratification helps to strengthen your mind and shape your character, it builds your willpower, promotes higher levels of self-discipline, and teaches you about the value of patience. It is in fact the ultimate habit that determines how successful you will become and how much you will ultimately achieve in the future.

Types of Instant Gratification

Breaking Free from the Habit of Instant Gratification

In order to break-free from the habit of instant gratification, it’s important that you consciously work through a five step process that will set you on the right track and moving in the direction of your long-term outcomes.

Step 1: Know What You Want

You must first understand where you are going. If you don’t understand where you are going or what you are going to be working towards, then it’s easy to get distracted by the temptations that life throws your way. Drawing up a plan to attain your goals and vision can help you to remain focused and disciplined along this journey.

Begin by clarifying your vision for the future. Ask yourself:

What do I want to achieve?

How will I achieve this?

Why do I want this? What are the benefits?

Why is it important to work towards this vision?

It’s important that you also specify your short-term objectives and priorities. This is critical because often instant gratification will crop up into your life when you are indecisive or uncertain about your direction. During these moments any temptation seems much more pleasurable than trying to work through the pain of figuring out what to do. This is especially true when you are confronted with unexpected problems.

Step 2: Identify Potential Obstacles

Along your journey towards fulfilling your long-term vision of the future, you will confront many problems. Some of these problems will be unexpected, and if you are not ready and able to deal with them, it then becomes easy to indulge in those short-term pleasures that will bring you momentary periods of comfort — essentially distracting you from your problems.

Problems can be quite unpredictable, and you won’t always know what problems you might face in advance. And yet problems are something you can effectively work through at the time as long as you don’t get caught up indulging in temptations that are likely to distract your mind from the most important tasks at hand.

For this very reason, it’s critical that you identify the temptations you might confront along your journey that could sidetrack you when the road becomes difficult. Ask yourself:

What temptations could sidetrack me?

How will I handle these temptations?

At this stage, don’t make the mistake of trying to find solutions to your problems. Your problems are irrelevant. You will most certainly overcome them, as long as you don’t get caught off-guard by the temptations that life will throw your way. These are the temptations that will help you to forget about your problems — they are the temptations that will bring you instant pleasure and will temporarily eliminate the pain of the problem that life blessed you with.

In the end it’s not the problem you must worry about, but rather concern yourself with the things that could distract you from solving your problem.

Step 3: Build Strong Support Network

In order to avoid falling into the instant gratification trap, it’s paramount that you build a strong support network of people who will help support you during difficult moments along your journey. Ask yourself:

Who could support me along this journey?

How could they support me?

What would their role be?

You will unlikely achieve the success you envision without a strong support network. These are the people that can help you to get past your problems. They are also there to help you stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize (end goal) without being sidetracked or distracted by temporary pleasures that life will no doubt tempt you with.

It’s also important here that you clarify what kinds of resources you might need along your journey. Ask yourself:

What resources might I need?

How will I acquire these resources?

Your resources might include tools, skills, knowledge, and a plethora of other things that you will need to achieve your desired long-term outcome. Maybe you’ll even need resources that will help you to ward off short-term pleasures and temptations that might suddenly creep up on you during difficult moments. Really have a good long hard think about what you might need along your journey to help guarantee you remain focused on what’s most important at all times.

Step 4: Set Clear Boundaries

It’s important at this stage to set clear boundaries or rules about what you will do and what you will avoid doing at all costs.

Without clear boundaries, it’s easy to fall prey to temptations. However, with clear rules in place about what you’re allowed and not allowed to do, will help you to feel more in control of the events and circumstances in your life. Ask yourself:

What am I allowed to do?

What’s absolutely off limits?

Determine what kind of behaviors you will no longer indulge in and think about the long-term rewards and benefits you will derive from avoiding these potential temptations.

Step 5: Create a Reward System

Finally, take time to create a reward system that will help keep you motivated long-term.

Reward yourself not so much for what you are doing, but rather reward yourself for staying away from possible temptations that could sidetrack you. If for instance you don’t get caught up within the habit of instant gratification for an entire week, and as a result you stay fully focused on the highest priority activities, then reward yourself with some temporary pleasure that will satisfy your senses. However, once the reward is done, move on and get back on track.

Doing things this way helps you to stay in control of your behavior. Yes, you are giving yourself permission to indulge in temporary pleasures and temptations from time-to-time, however these are not distractions, but rather rewards for your efforts. You are in control of this behavior and therefore you are in control of your life. It is when your behavior controls you and you end up falling prey to instant gratification, this is when your short-term pleasures begin getting in the way of your long-term objectives.

Overcoming Instant Gratification Process

What to do When You Get Caught in the Instant Gratification Trap

Okay, so no matter how much you tried to discipline yourself, and no matter how much you focused on your long-term objectives, you unexpectedly just couldn’t resist… things got difficult or just plain boring, and you just couldn’t resist those temptations… the short-term pleasures that make life so worthwhile. And now you’re trapped — caught up within the instant gratification trap and you have absolutely no idea how to dig yourself out.

Being caught within the instant gratification trap is not ideally the place you would like to be. However, you’re here now, and must accept that fact. Mistakes happen, and temptations will sometimes get the better of you. However, all is not lost. You can still escape… and you better do it quickly before it takes over your life. Given this, here is your four step escape plan:

Step 1: Distract Yourself

Immediately, the moment you are caught up within the instant gratification trap you must distract yourself with another activity or at the very least separate yourself from the temptation you are indulging in.

There are two ways you can refocus your mind on what’s most important. First, you can make use of your support network and talk with someone who can help you to work through this. Your second option is to pull yourself away from the temptation and just sit quietly thinking about your behavior for a few moments. It’s however important during this time that you remove your emotions from the equation. Think logically about what just happened, not emotionally.

During this period of contemplation, there is one critical thought that must cross your mind that should make you think twice about what it is you were just doing. Have a good hard think about whether or not you are willing to sacrifice your future for fleeting moments of relatively insignificant and meaningless pleasure. If this gets you thinking, then continue asking yourself the following questions that will hopefully help you to begin doubting your behavior:

Will this decision help or hurt me?

What’s the long-term impact of this fleeting moment of pleasure?

Is it really worth indulging in this temptation?

What if I get into the habit of indulging in this every day? What will be the long-term impact?

How will I feel about this tomorrow? How will I feel about myself?

How could this delay what I really want most out of life?

Working your way through these questions will at the very least make you doubt your actions, and in some instances the answers you give to these questions may be all you need to get back on track.

Step 2: Focus on the Big Picture

Having thrown doubt on your behavior, it’s now time to create the motivation you need to help you re-focus and move forward. To do this, consider the rewards and long-term pleasures you will derive from walking away from this temptation. Ask yourself:

What’s the big picture?

Why is it important to achieve this outcome?

How will I benefit from achieving this outcome?

Reminding yourself about what it is you are working towards in the long-term will help you to remember what’s most important moving forward. This will likewise allow you to re-prioritize your actions accordingly to help create the momentum you need to achieve your goals.

Step 3: Eliminate Temptations

You must now leave this temptation behind and get back on track as quickly as possible. However, don’t just forget about what just happened and return to your normal routine. If you do this, then it’s probably likely that you will fall back into the same instant gratification trap as before. Instead, have a think about what you could do to help eliminate this specific temptation so that it becomes ever more so difficult for you to fall back into this trap again in the future. Once this is done, you will be ready to re-focus yourself on your main goals and objectives.

Step 4: Learn from Your Experience

Now it’s important that you learn from this experience. You made a mistake, and that’s perfectly fine. Everyone makes mistakes. We’re human after all. However, because we’re human we are also very capable of learning from our mistakes and adjusting our course of action accordingly.

Take the time to learn from this experience by asking yourself:

What can I learn from this experience?

How could I do better next time?

The more willing and open you are to learning, the less likely you are to fall back into the same instant gratification trap in the future, and the more likely you are to attain your long-term goals in quick succession.

Instant Gratification Trap

8 Ideas to Avoid Falling into the Instant Gratification Trap

Keeping out of the instant gratification trap is a long-term process that needs constant attention. The moment you let your guard down is the moment it can creep up on you, and before you know it you’ve been sucked in by temptations. There are however things you can do on a daily basis that will help you to ward off this nasty habit.

Stop Thinking About Short-term Pleasures

This sounds simple on the surface, however it can be quite difficult if you are surrounded by temptation. If this is true in your situation, then you must immediately transform your environment and hide or — better yet — remove the temptations altogether. The more difficulty you create for yourself when it comes to accessing and indulging in temptations, then the more likely you are to stay focused and on-task when problems inevitably arise.

Quit Justifying Your Actions

Are you making excuses and justifying your actions? There is never really a good excuse for indulging in temptations that distract you from your problems and even worse, sabotage your desired outcomes. The excuses you make are only lies you have created to make yourself feel better.

If you find that you are making a lot of excuses about why it is okay to indulge in these temporary pleasures, then it is strongly recommended that you seek a different perspective. Have a chat with a few people within your support network, and get their feedback about the situation. Hopefully one or more of them will put your excuses to shame.

Keep Yourself Accountable

It’s important that you always keep yourself accountable for your decisions and actions. Never deny the fact that you fell into the instant gratification trap. Acknowledge the fact that it happened, accept responsibility, hold yourself accountable for your actions, and right your wrongs to get yourself back on track.

You might of course want to ask someone else to become your accountability partner. However, they will most likely not be there by your side for 24 hours per day. And if they’re not there, then who will be accountable for your decisions and actions? You of course. You must take responsibility. Others can help you, but ultimately the buck stops with you.

Learn to Manage Self-Control

Your greatest victories against instant gratification will be when you have consciously mastered self-control over your impulses and behavior. Yes, of course you can hide all your temptations and eliminate them out of sight and out of mind. However, to truly master self-control, all your temptations and the things that give you instant satisfaction and pleasure must be at arm’s reach.

When things are at arm’s reach and yet you resist indulging in them, then that is the moment when you begin mastering the process of self-control. It might of course be difficult during the early stages, however over time your self-control will grow stronger like a muscle would when used. The more you use it, and the more often you resist those instant pleasures and stay focused on what’s most important, then the more control you have over yourself, over your life and over your destiny.

Develop Long-term Motivation

Your levels of motivation are likely to dip up and down over time. This is okay. It’s natural for your short-term motivation to waver as events and circumstances — some of which may be beyond your control — influence your emotional state. Don’t concern yourself too much about short-term motivation. What you should focus on is developing long-term motivation. Long-term motivation comes from thinking big — reflecting on the bigger picture or vision you have about how your future will look like down the track. And this is exactly what you must keep in mind at all times to keep yourself focused and motivated along your journey.

You can of course create short-term motivation by challenging yourself. For instance give yourself time limits for completing a task. Or turn a tedious task into some kind of game that you need to win in order to move onto the next phase of your journey. These kinds of short-term motivational strategies will help you to stay focused and on track on a daily basis. However, without the bigger picture, your short-term motivation will waver because you will have very little to look forward to down the track.

Create Visual Reminders of Your Goals

One of the best ways to maintain long-term motivation is to display visual reminders of your goals and priorities on your wall or desktop. It could be in the form of a vision board, or some kind of collage that represents your goals. Or it could just be photos of what you would like to achieve in the future.

These reminders come in handy whenever you are tempted to go off track and possibly indulge in something you shouldn’t be doing. During these moments take time to reflect upon the visual reminders of your goals. This could in fact be all you need to help you stay focused and on track.

Overcoming Instant Gratification

Invest in Future Gains

One of the best ways to stay away from the instant gratification trap is to invest your time, effort and energy into future gains. This basically means pursuing long-term pleasures, benefits and rewards.

Consider what you are likely to gain from every action you take long-term. Yes, of course the current task you are working on might seem somewhat tedious and boring, however it’s a part of the bigger picture and will therefore lead to some significant gains in the future.

Always remind yourself what you are gaining long-term from every task you perform. This by itself could trigger the motivation you need to help you move forward.

Prepare for Short-term Pain

The reality of life is that we very rarely get something for nothing. This is very true when it comes to the attainment of your goals and objectives. You are going to undoubtedly need to get through a lot of short-term pain and discomfort to achieve your desired long-term outcomes. At times, this pain might not even be short-term. You might in fact need to make serious sacrifices and go through some unimaginable struggles along the way. It’s during these times when the instant gratification trap will come into play. And it’s during these moments that you must resist the temptation to succumb to your urges for temporary pleasure.

Your life and long-term goals are probably way more important than the momentary temptations that are often thrown your way. If you honestly believe this, then you will have no problems developing the habit of delayed gratification. However, if you don’t believe this, then you will continue to experience fleeting moments of pleasure, but in the end you will not be satisfied, you will not be happy, and you will certainly not be fulfilled. At the end of your life you’ll have nothing more but an ageing memory full of regrets and unfulfilled expectations.

Time to Assimilate these Concepts

Escaping the instant Gratification Trap

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam's story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.