Why You Succumb To Instant Gratification – And The Easiest Way To Make Life Optimizing Choices

The number one reason people fail in an endeavor is that they give in to immediate temptations rather than staying focused on their longer-term goals.

There is an ongoing battle in our minds between the present and the future, a conflict between what we know is good for us in the long term versus what we want to do right now. For the highest achievers, the future always wins. For others, who succumb to gratifying their immediate needs, the present comes out victorious.

We have engaged in this battle a million times. For example, you may want a promotion at work or achieve a milestone in your sport, or maybe you wish to complete an Ironman triathlon, write a book, or save to build a specific net worth. Each of these is a goal that requires significant effort and sacrifice.

Fighting these commitments is the immediate desire that prevents you from attaining what you know is good for you. For example, you get caught up in thoughts like “It’s raining, and I feel like sleeping in today instead of training,” or “I want to go out for dinner with my friends today instead of working.”

As illogical as it sounds, even though we know what is good for us, we consciously select an alternative that is worse for us, and we do it because it is hard to always think about a distant future. We succumb to satisfying our immediate desires because they are more tangible, pleasurable, and instantly gratifying.

Instant Gratification is an Innate Trait:

The desire for instant gratification is innate to humans and is rooted in our survival. The fundamental things that humans need to survive are designed to provide pleasure, like food, drink, sex, sleep, and social interaction. Not coincidentally, these are the acts we indulge in when we seek instant gratification. Instant gratification is simply seeking pleasure over pain, which Freud calls the pleasure principle. So, when you give in to instant gratification, you are merely doing what you are pre-programmed to do.

However, in our modern society, we live for a long time, and what may give us a quick fix of pleasure may also result in longer-term pain. We no longer need instant gratification for survival. Unlike our ancestors who ate when they saw food because they may not have known where their next meal would come from, we don’t need to indulge whenever we see food. Today the tendency for instant gratification is linked to lower achievement, higher debt, obesity, risky sexual behavior, and substance abuse.

Unlike instant gratification, which is instinctual, delaying gratification is a skill we learn and acquire. Delayed gratification involves selecting pain over pleasure but results in greater rewards because it fulfills our higher-order and longer-term needs, such as comfort, power, achievement, and self-worth.

The highest achievers in the world are the ones who have best learned how to delay gratification and focus on longer-term achievement. You, too, can train your mind to learn how to delay gratification and to wait for the more significant rewards that far outweigh the quick fix you get through any instantly gratifying alternative.

The Most Effective Method to Delay Gratification:

If you have trouble prioritizing long-term gain over short-term desires, I recommend using a simple but highly effective tool to help you not give in to your immediate urges. This tool, known as a commitment device, removes temptation and prompts you to do what you should to achieve your long-term goals. It does so by making it harder to give in to instant gratification or punishing you for choosing an instantly gratifying option.

There are countless commitment devices that you can establish for yourself or those around you. For example, cutting up your credit card is an effective commitment device that helps prevent you from spending money needlessly. Or perhaps you decide that you will donate money to a charity or household fund if you don’t practice your activity for two hours a day. A common and valuable commitment device is practicing or working with a partner or a coach. You can’t take the day off if you know someone else is waiting for you.

Commitment devices have been responsible for some of the greatest works in history. Acclaimed author Victor Hugo loved attending parties with his friends, preventing him from writing. He decided to lock up his formal clothes so he would have nothing to wear at evening soirees and consequently unable to attend All he kept was a gray shawl that he wore every day until he completed his masterpiece, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Locking away his evening clothes was the commitment device that helped him create the masterpiece.

I use commitment devices when I need to focus on my work. I often put away my phone in a different room so that I am not tempted to reach for it and scroll mindlessly. This commitment device has forced me to stay focused and has helped me publish two books.

If you want to achieve significant milestones and have trouble staying committed, find the commitment device that works best for you. It is one of the most effective tools you can use.

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