Carrie Fisher once said, “Instant gratification takes too long” and you know if anyone understands it’s Carrie. I have always been an instant gratification kind of girl, maybe it has a lot to do with bipolar disorder, maybe not, but probably yes. In my most heightened states of mania I would spend obscene amounts of money on frivolous purchases without batting an eye because the high I took away from that was euphoric. When I started to come down and the high dissipated, as it always did, I was left feeling guilty, ashamed and panicked because of the mountain of debt that I was continually heaping onto myself. This guilt coupled with my swift decent into depression from bipolar disorder was so terrifying that my response was to ignore it and go searching for the next quick fix to make me feel better. Rather than addressing my problems and asking for help, I created a whole world of new problems in pursuit of instant gratification.
What exactly is instant gratification? It’s immediate satisfaction or contentment. It’s the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay. There’s a lot to be said for instant gratification, it’s not all bad, not even close. To seek gratification and approval is hardwired into us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being rewarded for a job well done, indulging in a harmless guilty pleasure now and again, and impulse purchasing that great looking shirt that just caught your eye. The problems start to arise when we can’t be happy unless we are instantly satiated, and let me tell you how hard it is to change perspectives on gratification. Not only must we try to retrain our own thoughts, which are a daily if not hourly job, but also we have an entire marketing media telling us, “You NEED THIS NOW in order to BE HAPPY.” Everywhere we turn there is someone selling something by pandering to us on a psychological level, it’s genius and disturbing all at the same time, but that’s how people make money. So how exactly can we still fulfill our need for gratification but do so in a more lasting and healthy manner? By exploring the concept of delayed gratification.
What is delayed gratification? The ability to put off something that is mildly rewarding or fun right now in order to wait for something of greater pleasure later. Basically you’re resisting a reward now to receive it later and the research behind this is phenomenal. In the 1970’s an American Psychologist by the name of Walter Mischel conducted a social experiment with pre-school aged children called the Marshmallow Test where the children were put in a room and given a single marshmallow. They were told that they could choose to eat it now or wait until the researcher returned (15 minutes later) and would be given another one, but if they chose to eat the first without waiting, they wouldn’t receive the second. Some kids gobbled that marshmallow right up (instant gratification) while others waited until the researcher returned and were rewarded with a second marshmallow (delayed gratification.) Either way the kids got a marshmallow, it’s not about depriving, it’s about self-control. Wouldn’t you rather wait a little bit and have two marshmallows? I thought so, lets look at how we can make that happen.
If I was one of the kids in that room my marshmallow would have been swallowed before the door had been closed, but now I’m on a path where I’d definitely be the kid drooling over my two marshmallows because I have learned that I can choose to exercise self-control. This is not always easy. This past spring I fell in love with a cherry red two-seater convertible. This car was completely impractical for my family and me, but I wanted it with a burning desire, and I almost bought it on the spot. I had to remind myself that this was not responsible. Instead, I decided that if I waited until next spring that I would be able to afford the vehicle that I really want and that is also a perfect fit for my family. It’s not the same thing, but it’s better and I’ve just made a really good choice, not blown a ton of money that I can’t afford to blow and will come out with something better than anticipated. I do still imagine cruising around in that cherry red whip though and that’s actually a very helpful technique when trying out delayed gratification — distraction.
Sometimes denying ourselves pleasure for a little while can become overwhelming to the point of fixation and we struggle to find ways to keep on track, but like anything just start small. Here are a few ways to help you if you choose to try out a little delayed gratification.
- Create a plan. Figure out what you want, and the choices you need to make to get you there.
- Prioritize. Once you figure out what’s important and what’s not you’re on your way to deciding what’s worth waiting for.
- Reward yourself. Break down your goals one step at a time; reward yourself a little as you achieve those goals.
- Make it a family thing. Encourage your kids to open up a savings account and work for something that they want.
Delaying gratification leads to better impulse control, less knee-jerk reactions, more effective problem solving skills, and actually helps with anxiety issues. You’re focusing on something, have a plan, and are setting up steps to see it through, with the finalization of something rewarding. When we practice delayed gratification there is no room for buyer’s remorse as we’ve mostly likely done our homework and have come prepared and informed. It’s something to think about, take it or leave it.
I still give in to instant gratification, I’m human, but I practice self-control now too. When the urge to consume everything I can starts to sneak up, I make an appointment with my therapist to talk through some stuff, chart my moods, and buy myself a new book. I just had to find a balance.