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. – Lynne Cheney
What is Instant Gratification?
Instant gratification is a habit where you forgo short-term pain, and instead, indulge in fleeting pleasures that ultimately result in long-term pain. In other words, you find reasons (excuses) not to do something because of the pain it creates at the moment even though you know that this action is necessary to help you attain your long-term goals and objectives.
It’s where the pleasures of the moment just seem so much more enticing than the temporary pain you’ll experience while in the pursuit of your goals. And this is precisely why instant gratification rarely gets us what we want in the long-run.
People caught up in the instant gratification trap expect to gain something from nothing. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. You need to give something 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 somewhat uncomfortable and painful. However, the temporary pain you experience during these fleeting moments will eventually turn to long-term pleasure when you finally achieve your goal.
Getting caught up in the instant gratification trap can make you very susceptible to addictions, jealousy, anger and impulsive behavior. It also often leads to increased stress, anxiety and overwhelm.
Indulging in instant gratification is a clearcut sign that you lack self-discipline. Moreover, it highlights that you are unable to control your emotional urges. This subsequently has significant consequences on your life resulting in narrow-minded thinking, poor decision-making, and planning habits.
Continued and persistent indulgence in instant gratification leads to long-term dissatisfaction. You feel unhappy and unfulfilled because you continuously forgo significant long-term benefits for insignificant short-term pleasures that come in the form of temptations.
What it Means to Delay Gratification
Delayed gratification is a habit where you forgo short-term pleasure (comfort) in order to gain significant long-term pleasure and future rewards. In other words, you ward off short-term temptations that might distract you from your long-term goals and instead focus on what you need to do to achieve your desired long-term outcomes.
This might, of course, result in short-term pain and suffering. However, this pain comes with the realization that it’s only temporary. It’s therefore, necessary as it helps you get to your ultimate destination.
Getting into the habit of delaying gratification gives you more control over your life, decisions, and actions. Furthermore, it helps you value and appreciate hard work and effort. Yes, things are tough right now, but the pain you experience is a necessary part of the process to help you achieve your long-term goals.
The act of delaying gratification helps to strengthen your mind and shape your character. It builds self-control and willpower, reinforces self-discipline, and teaches you about the value of patience. It’s the one habit that determines how successful you will become and how much you will ultimately achieve.
How to Break Free from the Habit of Instant Gratification
To break free from the habit of instant gratification, it’s imperative that you consciously work through the following five-step process. This process of steps will set you on the right track and help you to develop the habits needed to pursue long-term goals and objectives.
Step 1: Know What You Want
Your first step is to get a sense of where you’re going. If you don’t understand where you’re 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.
With that in mind, 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 crucial that you also specify your short-term objectives and priorities. This is critical because often instant gratification will squeeze its way into your life when you are indecisive or uncertain about your direction.
During these times, indulging in temptations will seem more enticing and pleasurable. On the other hand, working through the pain of trying to figure things out will be the last thing you will want 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, of course, surprise you in unexpected ways. And if you’re not ready to deal with them, then you are likely to succumb to short-term pleasures that bring you momentary periods of comfort. These pleasures will essentially distract you from your problems.
Problems can be quite unpredictable by nature, and you won’t always know what problems might arise. And yet problems are things you can effectively work through as long as you don’t get caught up indulging in temptations that are likely to distract you.
For this very reason, it’s critical that you identify the temptations you might confront along your journey. These are temptations that could sidetrack you when facing adversity. 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 throws your way.
I’m, of course, talking about the temptations that will make you forget about your problems. They are the temptations that will bring you instant pleasure and will temporarily eliminate the pain of the problem you face.
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 a Strong Support Network
To avoid falling into the instant gratification trap, it’s paramount that you build a strong support network. These people 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 exactly would their role be?
You will unlikely achieve the success you envision without a strong support network.
These are the kinds of people that can help you work through your problems more efficiently. They will be there to help you stay focused. And, more importantly, they will be there to make sure you don’t get sidetracked or distracted by temporary pleasures that life will undoubtedly throw your way.
It’s also important that you clarify what kind of resources you might need on 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 objectives.
It’s very possible that 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 times.
Have a good long hard think about what you might need along your journey to ensure you remain focused on what’s most important at all times.
Step 4: Set Clear Boundaries
It’s crucial 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 — you will feel more in control of the events and circumstances of your life. Ask yourself:
What am I allowed to do?
What’s absolutely off limits?
Outline what kinds of behaviors you will no longer indulge in. Also, 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’re doing, but instead, reward yourself for staying away from possible temptations that could distract you.
If for instance, you stay focused on your highest priority activities and don’t get caught up in the habit of instant gratification for an entire week, 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 will help you stay in control. Yes, you are giving yourself permission to indulge in temporary pleasures and temptations from time-to-time. However, these are not distractions but instead rewards for your efforts.
You are in control of this behavior and, therefore, you are in control of your life. It’s when your behavior controls you, and you end up falling prey to instant gratification, that is when your short-term pleasures begin getting in the way of your long-term objectives.
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 just couldn’t resist. Things got difficult or just plain dull, and you just couldn’t resist those short-term pleasures that make life so worthwhile. And now you’re trapped — caught up in the instant gratification trap. And what’s worse, you have absolutely no idea how to dig yourself out.
Getting caught in the instant gratification trap is, of course, not where you prefer to be. However, you’re here now, and you 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 all this, here is your four-step process escape plan…
Step 1: Immediately Distract Yourself
Immediately, the moment you are caught up in the instant gratification trap you must distract yourself with another activity or at the very least separate yourself from the temptation you are currently indulging in.
There are two ways you can refocus your mind on what’s most important.
First, you can tap into your support network and speak with someone who can help you work through your predicament.
Your second option is to pull yourself away from the temptation and just sit quietly thinking about what just happened. You must, however, remove your emotions from the equation. Think logically about what just transpired, not emotionally.
During this period of contemplation, 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 set of questions. These questions will hopefully help you begin throwing doubt on 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 activity every single 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 the things I want in my life?
Working your way through these questions will at the very least cause you to doubt your actions. And in some instances, the answers you give to these questions may be all that’s needed to help you get back on track.
Step 2: Focus on the Big Picture
Now that you doubt your own behavior, it’s 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 of what you’re working towards will help you to recall what’s most important. This will likewise allow you to re-prioritize your actions. As a result, you will 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 usual daily routine. If you do this, then you are likely to fall back into the same instant gratification trap as before.
Instead, have a think about what you could do to eliminate this specific temptation. Your objective is to make it as difficult as possible to fall back into this trap.
Once you’re done, you will be ready to re-focus yourself on your primary goals and objectives.
Step 4: Learn from Your Experience
Now, it’s vital that you take the time to 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 open you are to learning from this experience, the less likely you are to repeat the same mistakes over again.
8 Ideas to Help You Avoid Falling into the Instant Gratification Trap
Staying away from the instant gratification trap is a long-term process that needs constant consideration. The moment you let your guard down is the moment it will creep up on you. Then before you even realize it, you’ve been sucked in by temptations.
There are, however, things you can do each day 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 tricky 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 difficult you make accessing and indulging in temptations, 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. The excuses you make are only lies you have created to make yourself feel better.
If you find that you are making endless excuses for why it’s okay to indulge in these temporary pleasures, then it’s strongly recommended that you adopt a different perspective.
Have a chat with a friend, colleague or family member and get their feedback on the situation. Hopefully, one of these people 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, and hold yourself accountable for your actions. Then right your wrongs and 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 will, of course. You must take responsibility. Others can help you, but ultimately the buck stops with you.
Learn to Manage Self-Control
Your most significant victory over instant gratification could very well come down to how well you’re able to master self-control. You could, of course, hide all your temptations. However, to truly master self-control, all your temptations should effectively be at arm’s reach.
When things are at arm’s reach and yet, you resist these temptations time, and again, that is when you will know you have mastered self-control.
Resistance, might, of course, be difficult at first. However, over time your self-control will strengthen like a muscle. 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-Lasting Motivation
Your level of motivation is likely to dip up and down over a period of time. This is okay. It’s natural for your short-term motivation to waver as events and circumstances (some of which will be beyond your control) influence your emotional state of mind.
Don’t concern yourself too much about short-term motivation. What you should focus on instead is developing long-term motivation.
Long-term motivation comes from your vision. It’s the picture you have of the future life you would like to build. Keep this in mind to help you stay 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 a game. In fact, why not treat life as a game?
These kinds of short-term motivation strategies will help you to stay focused and on track each day. However, without the bigger picture, your short-term motivation will waver as 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. This could come in the form of a vision board or in the form of a collage that represents your goals. Or it could just be photos of what you would like to achieve at some point in the future.
These visual reminders come in handy whenever you’re tempted to indulge in temptations. During such moments, take time to reflect on the visual reminders of your goals.
Invest in Future Gains
One of the best ways to avoid getting caught up in the instant gratification trap is to invest your time, effort, and energy into future gains. This essentially means pursuing long-term pleasures, benefits, and rewards.
For example, consider for a moment what you’re likely to gain in the long-term from every action you take. Yes, of course, the current task you’re working on might seem somewhat tedious and boring. However, it’s one part of the bigger picture that will, therefore, lead to some significant future gains.
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 in optimal ways.
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 our 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 severe 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.
I have a question for you. Do you believe that your life and long-term goals are more important than the momentary temptations that are thrown your way?
If you honestly believe this, then you will have no troubles developing the habit of delayed gratification.
However, if you don’t quite believe this, then you will continue to experience fleeting moments of pleasure. But unfortunately, in the end, you will not be satisfied. You will not be happy, and you will probably not be fulfilled. At the end of your life you’ll have nothing more but a fading memory full of regrets and unfulfilled expectations.
Is this really the kind of life you want? Or do you want something better?
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 10 Reasons We Rush for Immediate Gratification @ Psychology Today
- A Valuable Guide to Resisting Temptations in Life @ Balance in Me
- Delayed Gratification and Children @ The Simple Dollar
- Delayed Gratification and the Secret to Willpower @ Wise Bread
- How Searching for Instant Gratification F*cks You Over Long-term @ Elite Daily
- How to Help Your Children Appreciate Delayed Gratification @ Get Rich Slowly
- How to Avoid the Temptations of Immediate Gratification @ Scientific America
- How to Use Temptation to Strengthen Your Willpower @ Psychology Today
- Instant vs. Delayed Gratification @ Timeless Information
- Moving Beyond Instant Gratification @ Craig Harper