With the New Year approaching, many of us are considering which habits we need to give up. However, we are accustomed to getting whatever we want (within reason) and not having to resist our temptations or urges since in our society everything seems acceptable and readily available. The truth is that we live in a culture where everyone expects immediate gratification. This is especially true with our dependence on the internet; people expect information, entertainment, and gratification without delay. We get frustrated and sometimes bored when we have to wait for something or things don’t go as planned. If the computer crashes or a particular site is down it feels like a catastrophe. In general we’ve become more impatient with information gathering, decision-making and even with people. As a society we often look for the quick fix and immediate result whether it relates to health, career, or finances. Even in our relationships we want to find the perfect mate quickly (think speed dating/internet dating) so we don’t waste time or energy. Why are we in such a big hurry? And what do we lose in the process?
Many are aware of the “marshmallow study” from five decades ago which measured children’s self-control and concluded that the ability to delay gratification is linked to a number of better life outcomes. Specifically, delaying gratification is linked to higher intelligence, improved physical and mental health along with greater social maturity. Is it more difficult today to have self-control and delay gratification? Yes, especially with TV, video games, and the internet, not to mention our easy access to destructive habits related to retail therapy, pornography, gambling, alcohol/drugs, and food. So what can we do to control temptation and delay gratification?
Obviously stress can make us more vulnerable to making bad choices and impulsive decisions, so managing stress through exercise, yoga, journalling or other techniques can be helpful. Build a supportive environment and have a network of friends that have similar values and goals who provide accountability and encouragement. Develop a game plan with clearly defined goals and share them with others. Reframe your mindset so that you focus more on the journey and less on the outcome. Many of us, myself included, need to learn to pause, be still, and practice being instead of always doing. Find positive distractions like reading, board games, and puzzles, that enable you to practice delayed gratification. Lastly, prioritize your objectives and reward yourself in positive ways when you meet them. We will value our accomplishments and life more when we have to work for and wait for the rewards.