An important tool that’s often underdeveloped is the ability to delay gratification in order to achieve long-term purpose. Instant gratification makes us feel good in the moment, it’s that debilitating comfort, the easy route on most highways that lead to discontent. But that’s tomorrow’s problem, right? Not quite.
Here’s a little secret to building a magical life; delay gratification. Delayed gratification is a tool that can be used to reach long-term goals, purpose and happiness by letting go of short-term pleasure and comfort. It is very common to resist growth because we enjoy the pleasure of our comfortable life, so we stay stuck.
An easy way to know if you’re choosing instant gratification over long-term purpose is usually by taking the time to look at how you feel after you do something or in some cases, not do something. It can take form in many different ways and it can look very different for different people.
It could be staying at that job that isn’t challenging you because you
enjoy the comforts of a steady pay cheque (short-term gratification),
which prevents you from getting a fulfilling job with potentially a
higher income (long-term purpose).
It could be continuing to go out with that Tinder date that you know
is just a fling but you don’t want to feel the discomfort of being
alone (short-term gratification), instead of focusing on loving yourself
and pursuing deeper connections (long-term purpose).
For students, watching that extra episode on Netflix (short-term
gratification) instead of working on that paper that’s due this
week (long-term purpose).
One way it took over my life in the past was my refusal to feel anything but happy. I avoided pain like the plague, so whenever something painful came up I would escape it (short-term gratification), instead of feeling it and healing it (long-term purpose). In almost all cases, when you have chosen instant gratification over long-term purpose you are usually left with an unsettling feeling of discontent or anxiety. Over time these feelings can build up and manifest into an ugly shadow of self-loathing.
The good news is, in most cases you don’t have to wait too long for the gratification of long-term purpose to kick in. I know most of you can relate to that agonizing feeling before walking into the gym or putting on your shoes to go for a run, you attempt to talk yourself out of it and rationalize why you shouldn’t go (short-term gratification), but that glorifying feeling you get when you’re done is an incredible high, you are left feeling great (long-term purpose)! When you choose long-term purpose you cultivate self-love love and a life you love.
We want to get in the habit of choosing growth, choosing character building actions, choosing a healthy lifestyle over the comforts of instant gratification. We may not see the results right away for most of these actions but our body, mind and soul will thank us in the future for the choices we made yesterday.
“How you spend your days is how you spend your life.” - Annie Dillard
Being able to harness the ability to delay gratification can greatly enhance your sense of control over your life and your decisions. Years ago, a change that I made that greatly impacted how my days went was waking up 20 minutes earlier to fit a meditating and journaling session into my morning routine. At first, I noticed that this small act changed how I handled my days, which changed how I handled my weeks and then my months and eventually my year!
Opportunity to Grow
Make a list of your long-term goals and purpose, things that make your mind, body and soul feel good. Then make a list of the choices you make that create short-term gratification at the expense of your long-term purpose. These will be things that are keeping you stuck but feel comfortable, things that feel good in the moment but you later regret. Yes, please take a piece of paper and make two columns (1) short-term gratification (2) long-term purpose. Write everything you can think of, big and small.
Here is an example of what this list looks like for my clients:
The Key is Awareness
Becoming aware of where your attention, time and energy go is a great start. This exercise will help you to become aware of the habits, thoughts and behaviours that are preventing you from living the life you want to live and being the person you want to be. Once you have awareness around the things you need to change, you can begin to start with the smaller, easier changes and slowly work your way up to difficult ones.
All this being said, I don’t want you to take this and use it to beat yourself up, we tend to do enough of that. Be gentle with yourself and take it easy. Practicing self-love is one of the hardest tasks to do when it’s not something we are used to, so start there. Practice changing that inner voice, catch those negative thoughts and change them to positive ones. Feel free to share your progress with me, I’d love to hear how you are doing <3