We live in a world of “instant gratification.” Think about it for a minute. We order an item with our Amazon Prime and it’s there within 24 hours; when we are hungry, we run through our favorite drive-thru or order takeout/delivery; when we want to know something, we ask Alexa or Siri; we tell our phones to call a friend; we instantly stream our entertainment; and we even use 30+ online dating apps like Hily to get instant “matches” and possible dates. In short, we want what we want when we want it.
Now getting what we want is not necessarily a bad thing. But in our digital age, we have become so used to “quick-fix” solutions, and it can lead to impulsive behaviors that take away from the quality of our lives. And it “does a number” on our brains.
The Brain’s Response to Instant Gratification
According to psychiatrist Dr. Austin Perlmutter, “Our brains are constantly changing in response to what we do and the things we pay attention to. For example, each time we impulsively eat an unhealthy snack or buy something online, our brain pathways for those actions are reinforced and strengthened, making it easier to fall into the same patterns the next time around and harder to break the cycle.”
So, our need for instant gratification can lead to issues with our health, our finances, and even our personal interactions with others (e.g., constantly checking our social media accounts or our texts while with friends, family, or dates). We develop habits and cravings, reinforced by hormonal surges in our brains, that are hard to break. And we make impulsive decisions that can have poor consequences.
Finding the Balance
It’s tough to get beyond a life of “instant, easy, and now.” Temptation is all around us. But somehow, we have to resist at least some of these urges if we are going to achieve longer-term goals.
Here’s a simple example. Years ago, a Stanford professor conducted an experiment with four-year-olds. He put them in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. He told each child they could eat the marshmallow, but if they waited until he came back, they would get two marshmallows. The study then tracked those who ate the single marshmallow and those who waited up through high school graduation. What he found was that those who waited (deferred their gratification) had higher SAT scores, lower BMI body weight, far less drug abuse, and lower anxiety levels.
Now put this into your own life. Someday, you are going to retire. So, how do you prepare for that? Do you not buy that new car because some of that money should go into savings? Do you forego other purchases, big and small, because you have a savings plan for the future? It’s hard to do but finding the balance between your immediate desires and your long-range goals will mean you have a far more successful life.
Here are some tips to help you out.
How to Achieve Your Balanced Life
Connect with People Who Have Long-Term Goals and Focus on the Future
Tell a friend or two about your long-term plans. Ask them to hold you accountable and to remind you of your future goals when you are tempted to discard them for something immediate.
For example, you have decided that you need to take a course to better qualify yourself for a promotion at work. You’ll have to pay tuition and attend classes. All of a sudden, another friend asks you to take a trip with them. That would be immediate fun, and it’s tempting. You need your responsible friend to hold you to your original plan – taking that course for a future benefit.
Get Control of Your Emotions and Look at Your Motives
When we are feeling down or stressed, we tend to become more impulsive. So, when we have a romance go bad or we don’t get the promotion we wanted, it’s easy to try to “drown” that pain with some immediate pleasure – take an expensive vacation, get online, and find a new hookup right away, or have some retail therapy that blows up your credit card balance.
There is a difference between pleasure and happiness. These things will bring you immediate pleasure but not long-term happiness. Why do you seek pleasure rather than happiness? If you can’t identify your motives, maybe seek some help from a professional. You can find gobs of them online.
Develop a repertoire of statements that you will play in your head when an impulse strikes you as you are feeling bad. If that doesn’t work too well, take up some Yoga practices, especially breathing and meditating. If you do this when an impulse hits, you are likely to get yourself emotionally stable again.
Make the Temptations Harder to Reach
You know what you do impulsively. Do you eat junk food? Then get it out of your fridge and replace it with healthy substitutes. Do you spend too much when you go to the bar? Take cash and leave your credit card at home. Do you spend too much time surfing the web when you should be focused on work? Get a time management app that will block your surfing for periods of time when you need to be working. Do you avoid your exercise routine? Schedule it regularly with a buddy who won’t let you opt-out.
That’s a Wrap…
All of us give in to instant rewards for a variety of reasons. And that’s fine when that need for the “instant” does not disrupt our long-term goals and needs – physically, emotionally, or financially. “Instant, easy, and now” brings pleasure, not long-term happiness. Use these tips to get yourself to a more balanced life.