Instant Gratification …

Or why don’t I seem to Achieve all that I’ve set myself to achieve.

The ‘Monkey’ controls my Actions.

In my last post I penned about “Am I losing Focus?” and signed off mentioning about Instant Gratification.

A number of readers came back to me with: YOLO (you only live once)/ Lyf is to be enjoyed/ why delay instant gratification and live a lyf of no limits, no restraints. Well, well …

Prof Walter Mischel (American-Austrian Psychologist) of Standford University came out with his seminal work; The Marshmallow Experiment. The students who could delay instant gratification were psychologically better adjusted, more dependable, motivated and scored better grades. It improves your will power and helps reach your long term goals fasterThe exact same participants in 2011 reflected that the basic characteristics of the individuals remained for life.

And yet, we succumb to ‘Instant Gratification’. While in most cases we think we are in control. Dan Ariely in his book ‘Predictably Irrational’ highlights how your mind can be easily manipulated, so much so that, you’re predictably irrational. Remember, the ice cream you craved and gave into, despite dieting promises.

While the YOLO brigade shout from rooftops of ‘Carpe Diem‘ – Seize the Day and how you need to do whatever you feel like. Well, they also need to hear about ‘Carpent tua poma nepotes‘ – Good things come to those who wait or as we say in vernacular; ‘sabr ka phal mithaa’.

The question is why do we give in, when we know that giving in/ succumbing to instant gratification is harmful in the long run, it diminishes focus and prevents us from our long term goals. Why do we, despite making promises, falter on coming to crossroads and make a wrong choice? Do we lose control of our minds? Or is the Monkey controlling us, making decisions for us?

Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment. Basically, it’s when you want it; and you want it now. When we don’t get fulfillment, our psychological response is anxiety or tension and often manifests as procrastination. It’s a form of self-sabotage where you get caught up indulging in the temptations of life at the cost of your long-term goals. Indulging in instant gratification is a clear sign that you lack self-discipline and highlights that you are unable to control your emotional urges. This subsequently has significant consequences on your life resulting in narrow-minded thinking, poor decision making, and planning habits.

Delayed gratification is a habit where you forgo short-term pleasure (comfort) in order to gain significant long-term pleasure and future rewards. In other words, you ward off short-term temptations that might distract you from your long-term goals and instead focus on what you need to do to achieve your desired long-term outcomes. Why doesn’t the mind obey your orders? fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) observed increased activity in anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC), thinking about the future. This image is fuzzy and hence NOT appealing. How do we make this tempting?

The aim is to get the impulsive people to produce activity in their brain that shows they’re thinking about future in a CONCRETE way, making them look and act more patiently. Because the future is fuzzy and impulsive people have an especially hard time imagining it, clinical treatments involve de-emphasizing the present, making it more abstract, building a concrete image of future.

Some Strategies for Delayed Gratification and not succumbing are:

+ Neuroscience hints at power of imagining the future. The issue with future is its vagueness and hence its important to imagine in graphic details of your Goals/ Visualize the outcome (power of visualization!). Remember ‘Self-Control‘ isn’t necessarily an inborn trait that you either have or you don’t. It can be developed!

+ Know what you want, what are the values that you stand for and thereof create a plan to achieve them. This will lead to priorities and you reward yourself for each small success. It helps you build your self-esteem too!

+ Shift your mental focus from the short term temptation to finding something else you like. Take a moment to drift off (day-dream!) and take mental breaks. Consider what you’re thankful for – an attitude of gratitude.

+ Watch your urges, and make conscious decisions and with time you’ll learn to avoid situations/persons/circumstances which tend to lead on to temptations. Push yourself to do the hard things and avoid distractions which divert your focus from your goals.

+ Build a strong support network, while you identify your potential obstruction. Set clear boundaries, which help you distinguish between ‘black-and-white’. Create visual reminders and invest in your future gains.

+ Last but NOT the least. Be mindful. Be reflective (of your actions/ choices). Be meditative.


May your day be lovely and mindful.