How to Avoid Instant Gratification When the World’s Full Of It
I’m hooked on Google searches. I take pleasure in knowing when I search for a question, the answer is moments away. A quick search becomes a hero in those annoying times when I cannot remember an actor’s name for the life of me. Because I need to know an answer immediately, it’s comforting to have a search engine around. No longer are the days when a simple teddy bear could relax me.
So what happens when I can’t find the answer to life’s most complex questions? Especially the big one: what is the meaning of life? Much to my displeasure, no search result will be able to tell me the answer to this wonder. Trust me; I’ve looked. Sure I’ve been able to learn and gain knowledge on the matter. There are religious views, nature’s cycles, or that we exist on a floating, giant rock. But I’ll only discover whatever a-ha answer resonates with me through meaningful life experiences. And that shit takes time.
Time. Ugh, I don’t have time to wait for time. Why do I instinctively feel impatient at the word time? There’s a reason why I get upset when I can’t find the answer to a question on Google in a couple of seconds. And the reason for that is instant gratification.
What is instant gratification?
The definition of instant gratification is experiencing pleasure without delay. You act and are immediately fulfilled. It’s easier than ever for us to partake in instantly gratifying activities. We’re able to read books quicker, start conversations faster, and engage in sex sooner. We can watch movies with the click of a button and even order food right to our doorstep. No hassle is needed.
In today’s world, it’s only too easy to be satisfied instantly. We can thank technology for this. The advancement of technology, including search engines, has made activities more efficient. I mean, we now have pocket-sized computers that gift us with convenience every time we use them.
Say you want to read a book. You no longer need to head to the book store if you have an eReader. By completing an order on a Kindle, you’ll have that book to read in under a minute. And then there’s instant messaging that’s evolved into text messaging. A text message usually can guarantee (unless you’re being ghosted) an instant response instead of writing a letter that will take weeks to receive a response. We can even swipe for a date instead of meeting someone by going out in the world.
Technology has bread convenience but also instant gratification. The list of activities technology has made convenient is vast. So vast that we’ve become conditioned to expect satisfaction instantly from any activity. Even the ones we don’t need to use technology to complete. Our expectation has become that if an action isn’t fulfilled immediately, something’s wrong, it’s useless, or there’s no point.
Why the need for instant gratification is bad
I’ve developed negative perspectives due to the need for instant gratification. There are times where I’ve become anxious when I haven’t received a text response from a loved one immediately. Even though there is a reason — focusing on work, eating dinner, taking some personal time — I worry the worst. The need for an instantaneous response and not getting one fuels anxiety.
Instant gratification can also root itself in life skills that have long-term effects. I’ve always had this pull to be expressive through writing. I never mastered the skill during my years of education because English was my worst subject. I pushed learning writing techniques aside as I was never good at it. As an adult, the pull to write was still there, so I decided it was time to work on this new skill.
However, I quickly became discouraged because I wasn’t able to master the subject in a day, week, or even month. I’d given up many times because of this discouragement. When I wasn’t able to learn on the first try, I felt like a failure.
And I did fail. Not at the skill, but realizing learning takes time, patience, and dedication. It’s not something we can plug into ourselves to update our software in a couple of minutes (yet).
Discouragement can cloud a person’s view on healthy goals. Take therapy, for example. Unfortunately, one therapy session will not cure us of all mental struggles. It takes many discussions to discover why we are the way we are and then time to process and cope.
Another life goal many of us have is forming healthy relationships. Yes, an instant connection is a thing in dating. However, there will be times when a relationship has to handle difficult situations. Based on the outcome, a relationship will either make it or break. A good relationship builds on the time spent experiencing life together.
Like it or not, we need to achieve these meaningful goals to feel satisfied in life. We won’t feel fulfilled scrolling through social media or watching Netflix all day, every day. That means we need to work on patience. We need to ween out actions that fuel instant gratification and add activities that delay gratification.
The Answer: Delayed Gratification
If a person masters to delay gratification, they can resist an immediate reward’s temptation to receive a more favorable reward in time.
Last year, the famous 1960s Stanford marshmallow test resurfaced. It became a social media trend for parents to test their children’s self-control. Parents would place a treat in front of their child. The parent would tell them not to eat the treat until they returned to the room. The parent would exit the room but set up a camera to film the scene before doing so. Viewers would watch to see if the child would eat the treat or wait. After an ample amount of time, the parents returned. If the child abstained from eating the treat, they would be rewarded with praise and even more treats. However, if temptation won and the child devoured the treat, then that’s it all gone.
Watching the internal struggle of the innocent children decide what to do was precious. But as an adult with deeper issues than a simple treat placed in front of us, having self-control and determination can become complicated, especially when we surround ourselves with many things that bring us instant pleasure.
Ways to implement delayed gratification into your life
Eliminate the drivers
Distractions for instant pleasure are all around us. For me, these are screen time, notifications, and yes, even my need to Google everything. These make demanding tasks such as focusing on meaningful work difficult. By limiting the activities that drive instant gratification, I slowly felt the need for them fade away.
My lunch breaks consisted of scrolling through social media. I’d get sucked in. My one more scroll made a half-hour break into an hour. I mean, we’ve all been there *cough* TikTok *cough*. To cut this distraction, I’ve taken all social media apps off my phone’s home screen and set time limits for them. When it takes five clicks instead of one to reach an app, I find myself using it less and less.
I’ve also muted all notifications. Because of this, I removed a reason to go on my phone. This removed distraction opens up time to focus on writing and other productive activities. Yes, I’ll still check my phone. But now, I’m consciously aware of going on it instead of instinctively picking it up when bored or on a break.
Speaking of being consciously aware, another big help for me to be more grateful in the present moment (however long that moment) has been mindfulness. When I decide to do something, I concentrate my focus on only that action.
I found myself thinking about what’s going to satisfy me next instead of what’s satisfying me now.
I’m on a walk, and I think about what I’m going to eat for lunch when I return. I brush my teeth, and I think about what clothes I’m going to put on after. Have you ever flipped through the pages of a book to see how much longer you have in the chapter? You decided to go for a walk, brush your teeth, or read the book, so walk, brush, or read!
By focusing on what’s satisfying me now, I’ll receive greater fulfillment from it. I’ll be able to live out each activity as intended and be content with that. It also helps to understand that even if I don’t receive instant fulfillment from a task, with time, I’ll become grateful for it.
Walk, don’t run
We’ve all heard the phrase: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Things take time. And a task is still gratifying even if it’s longer than 8 (average adult attention span) or 15 seconds (length of a Tik Tok video).
When I see how big the park’s circle path is, sometimes I want it to go by as fast as possible. I want to be on the other side of my exercise thinking, “wow, I completed all that.” But if I were to run the circle instead of walking, I’d miss little moments of joy — a fat squirrel gathering acorns in the bushes or the warm sunshine on my face.
Walking allows me to pace myself. Not only in exercise but also in life. I have become more mindful of the place I am in life through walking. I can slow down and understand the speed at which I’m moving is exactly the speed I need, even if it’s a slow one. Like realizing therapy is going to take some time. Or writing a novel takes months to complete, not hours. Or a relationship is built to last a lifetime. I appreciate that all tasks, no matter how long they take, are still gratifying.
Everyone’s going to have instant pleasures in their life. These pleasures can become distractions without moderation. Before making them a habit and attributing them to all life moments, learn patience. In time, you’ll be grateful for it.