For the last few weeks the theme of instant gratification and its effect on the mind has consistently come into my realm of focus. Between articles about the impact of cell phone use on our neural pathways and ability to remember, to the challenges of maintaining creativity in a world of distraction, my thoughts have been on this topic consistently. I figure the universe, God, the reticular activating system, are all conspiring to open my mind to this area, it’s something others might benefit from too.
As I said, most of the current information about instant gratification focused on smart phone use; how having the world at our fingertips can limit our ability to store pertinent information, the way our scrolling through social media effects our self-esteem, and how our incessant need to “do it for the ‘Gram” is reducing our actual experiences of our own memories and our ability to recall them later. The negative impact of instant gratification is so far reaching and insidious, it staggers me to think about it.
On a daily basis I grab a granola bar instead of making the oatmeal that I enjoy. I grab my phone to check my email even when I know that my unread messages consist of a coupon for a store I don’t live near anymore and an advert for burritos. I close my computer then check my phone for new alerts. I drive to work when I prefer to walk. I watch YouTube and Netflix instead of working on my hobbies, creative interests and other endeavors just because it’s easier. I snack while I’m making dinner because the anticipation is just too much. If feels good to complete an action and have an immediately observable, and enjoyable, result.
In the last few weeks I’ve been noticing how much of a let-down all of my immediate pleasure seeking ends up being. What do I have at the end of a social media scrolling session? A few chuckles? An “Oh, that’s what they’re doing now?”? At best I’ve made a third hand connection with someone that may last a few minutes and keep us quasi connected. Maybe I’ve some inspirational quotes and motivation to get back to the thing I wanted to be working on instead of checking Instagram! I have literally been ready to go for a run then checked Instagram instead (gotta get that last minute dopamine hit before doing the lasting work of running) and scrolled posts about other people working out before finally leaving to run. I feel how frenzied my mind feels when I fill the waiting moments and extra minutes of the day with phone stimulation. I’ve noticed how I feel after eating a bag of chips instead of making myself some popcorn, the way fruit snacks make me feel when I just had to have “fruit” and couldn’t dedicate the three minutes to put some berries in a bowl with yogurt. I feel empty at the end of a day full of TV and Reddit, but more peaceful and fulfilled after playing my ukulele or practicing lettering. It feels like my activities are much more obviously delineated, not between leisure and work as they used to be, but between things that I do to feel good in a moment-for a moment, and things that take work and have a lasting result.
Being healthy takes time. It’s annoying. It’s frustrating and hard and sweaty and tedious and sometimes expensive and not as much fun. But you know what? It lasts. Quick calories leave you in an hour, whole calories fuel you for a few. Sitting on the couch feels great for a while, jumping jacks give your metabolism, and lymphatic, muscular, cardiovascular and endocrine systems a boost for the day.
Being creative takes time. Finding the supplies, setting them up, perfecting your technique, practicing over and over- it takes time. No one is an artist in a day. You may very well dislike the first number of things you create. Creating paintings, music, even food, are long game activities. Scrolling pictures on Instagram? Quick, easy, shiny and momentary fun. Science has shown that you won’t even remember most of them.
Building a business takes time. Networking, making resumes, meeting people, making your product, perfecting your pitch- it’s a process with very few rewards on a short term basis. Now it can look and seem like businesses pop up overnight, like you can jump into a business plan and have your own empire by next week. Guess what. It’s not real. Making a company takes work. Consistent work with very little upfront payout. Watching The Office on Netflix to feel better about your current work situation in comparison? Easy, immediate pleasure. Calling 50 people to tell them about the new service you offer so you don’t have to keep your day job? You’re gonna have to wait for the payout.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to get myself in better delayed gratification shape:
- Identify the areas in which you are sacrificing quality and enduring results for instant satisfaction.
- Decide what long term goals you are willing to change your habits to achieve.
- Start adding delayed gratification into your days.
- Minimize instant gratification in whatever way possible.
For me this means starting dinner before I’m too hungry to wait for it. It means that instead of watching someone else’s sunset pictures and cute videos I take my ukulele on the patio and enjoy my own sunset. When I’m feeling like I want to see something pretty, I’m first trying to make my own beauty before heading to Instagram. I still like TV shows. I’m still watching Halloween movies and eating ice cream and scrolling socials. But now I realize what I’m doing. My brain is aware of the time it’s spending and the end result. I’m making changes and I already feel happier and more fulfilled because of it.