JULY 8, 2021

“The obsession with instant gratification blinds us from our long-term potential.”

—Michael Dooley

Do you think instant gratification is bad?

If yes, you’re wrong. 

Instant gratification isn’t bad at all. The way we use it is. 

What Is Instant Gratification?

We need to clear the fluff about instant gratification before diving into the debate of whether it is good or not. 

In simple terms, instant gratification means feeling good right now. When you eat a pizza, it feels good in your mouth, and you’re instantly gratified. When you go to an amusement park, you enjoy your time there and get instant gratification. Whenever you get a reward as soon as you do something, that’s instant gratification. 

But, we often misunderstand this term and classify it as something bad. We think that eating pizza will make us fat. Many other activities that are deemed as “bad habits” offer instant gratification. That’s why we consider instant gratification to be bad. 

If that were true, though, we wouldn’t exist today. Instant gratification was an essential survival tool for hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago. 

Let’s travel back in time by a hundred thousand years. You’re sitting by a bonfire with your tribe, enjoying the sunset on the African Savanah and grilling the wildebeest you hunted down today.

It’s late in the evening when you hear the sound of a wild buffalo who broke off from its herd. What would you do? Would you hunt it down or let it go?

The answer is simple. You would hunt it down because then you won’t have to worry about food over the next few weeks. You’ll have both the wildebeest and the buffalo. That’s instant gratification at play. 

However, it is important for you because there is no certainty in a hunter-gatherer’s life, and if you don’t instantly get something, you’ll be wiped off. 

That’s how instant gratification helped humans survive. And that is why instant gratification isn’t bad. Instead, it’s a lifesaver. 

How Does Instant Gratification Work?

Now that we know what instant gratification is, we need to understand how it works to use it for the better. 

Instant gratification relies on your ancient thought processes to work. Even though we live a very certain life right now, the part of our brain that wanted instant gratification is still there. 

We know that we can get a pizza anytime, but we still give in to the temptation. Why? Because instant gratification kicks in, and subconsciously, there is the uncertainty that we won’t get pizza again.

None of this happens right in front of us. It occurs in the back end, which we can’t control unless we consciously become aware of it and act on it. 

Why Instant Gratification Isn’t So Gratifying?

Instant gratification is a part of us, but we don’t need it now, and that’s why it becomes ungratifying in the long term. 

We can walk into a pizza shop anytime, and nothing will change if we don’t go today. But the uncertainty subconsciously comes up, and we end up eating unhealthy food continually. We know it’s bad for us in the long term, but the short-term benefits make it seem viable. 

That’s when we start becoming obese, and the ungratifying part of instant gratification comes up. On the other hand, things like exercise are ungratifying and painful in the short term but offer great results and benefits in the long term. We don’t do it consistently because we can’t see the point of doing it. 

That’s a problem. 

But, there’s a solution too!

How Do You Break Instant Gratification?

Breaking bad habits and imbibing good ones can only happen when you break out of instant gratification.

How does that happen, though? Instant gratification is a part of us then how can we break from it?

Remember when I said that instant gratification isn’t bad, but the way we use it is? We are going to change the way we use instant gratification!

First, let’s go through the process of breaking out of bad habits. 

We develop habits like eating unhealthy food only because it tastes good and gives us instant pleasure. What we need to do is make it instantly painful and challenging to do. You need to create as much friction and effort as possible between you and the action until it seems almost impractical to do. 

Let’s take the pizza example. The best way to create friction is by deleting all pizza shop contacts from your phone and uninstalling the delivery apps. Then, you choose a different route for your daily commute, so you don’t encounter any pizza shops. The next step is to fill your house with fruits and healthy food at many places so that they are easily within your reach at all times. 

If you consciously decide that you won’t go to any pizza shop and create this much friction, do you think that you’ll spend a lot of time going out and trying to get a pizza? It wouldn’t make any sense, and instant gratification won’t work because there is a lot of effort and time involved, and the reward is delayed. 

Now, let’s understand how to imbibe good habits that are not instantly gratifying. What you need to do here is the opposite of what you did in the previous step. You need to create the least friction possible and consciously create an instant reward for the action. 

If you want to start exercising, make it easy for yourself. Delay your routine by 1 hour so that you can do nothing but exercise after you wake up. Keep the clothes and shoes ready and right by your bedside, so you wear them instantly. Decide on your exercise and routine the night before, so you aren’t confused about what to do when you wake up. And to continue your exercise routine, you can keep an instant reward for yourself. Maybe you get to watch an episode of your favorite series after you exercise, or you get to work one less hour each day you exercise. Whatever it is, keep an instant reward, and you’ll start exercising. 

Use instant gratification the right way, and you’ll be able to take quick action that leads you to success!

Partnering in your success, happiness, and growth,