The Instant Gratification Trap
Balancing near-term rewards with long-term goals
“No one wants to be patient. No one wants to wait for anything. They want it right now — that instant gratification”.- P J Tucker.
Let’s face it. It is a common human weakness to give up on long-term goals for immediate gratification. We decide to go on a diet, but when someone offers us a chocolate cake, the urge to grab it cannot be controlled. And we determine the diet can start from tomorrow.
We promise to save money, but when we decide to save, we see a new bike, a pair of good shoes that we must have, and we cannot control the craving to buy them.
Something similar happens with healthcare as well. Everyone knows preventive medicine is more cost-effective and suitable for catching and avoiding health problems if diagnosed early. But we often procrastinate and avoid getting health checkups done regularly.
Many coaching clients talk about how they would achieve their self-development goals and have impressive action plans, but in reality, they struggle to get them off the ground. So, what holds them back? Busy schedules, lack of confidence, or absence of instant rewards? Often it is the absence of instant rewards.
The era of 10min delivery is a classic example of instant gratification. I no longer have to plan and make a list of my groceries. My family feels like eating a particular food item, and I don’t have the ingredients available. I order them through any 10 min delivery app on my smartphone, and ooh la la! I have items delivered at my door in 10 mins.
When making decisions in our lives, we think we are in control. But actually, we are not.
In the book “Predictably Irrational” behavioural economist and author Dan Ariely talks about the hidden forces that shape our decisions. In a series of experiments, he shows how expectations, emotions and other factors skew our reasoning abilities. And this is the reason why we can’t do what we want to do.
According to researchers at Princeton University, two areas of the brain compete for control over behaviour when a person attempts to balance near-term rewards with long-term goals. One area of the brain is associated with our emotions, and the other with abstract reasoning. When offered a cake, the brain’s emotional response to instant gratification; we get pushed to grab the cake even if other healthy options are available.
Try these self-control mechanisms to stay in check and make the right choices.
- Pre-commit to achieving goals. Know your “why” clearly.
- Don’t allow your emotions to overpower your logical thinking. Tie your feeling to a goal that you want to achieve. I wanted to develop a habit of getting up at 5 am and going for a walk. I kept putting off this idea, but then I started reminding myself of the positive benefits of this habit.
- Delay gratification when you urge to break your diet plan or your goal to save money — Journal and note what you have done to overcome instant gratification.
- Set limits for yourself.
- Get an accountability partner who will nudge you and make you answerable if you fail to follow through.
“Don’t sacrifice your future dreams at the altar of instant gratification.” Ashley Borden