We often hear advice like “live in the moment” and “the time is now.” These are wise words and being mindful of the present moment is an excellent way to live well. However, getting everything we want when we want it is not necessarily good for us. It can make us complacent and lazy.
Instant gratification is tempting and, in this day and age, easily attainable.
We have access to fast everything—information, food, technology, entertainment, comfort. We don’t have to exert a lot of effort into fulfilling our desires and, in many cases, we can purchase goods and services in an instant that will gratify our every requirement. What we don’t consider are the lessons and benefits we miss out on when we don’t delay fulfillment. We experience personal growth when we work harder to achieve satisfaction. We also take for granted the value of aiming for long-term goals and drawing benefit from the process by which we reach contentment.
Minimalist blogger and author Leo Babauta from zenhabits.net says that we don’t have to deprive ourselves of the good things in life in order to achieve balance. It’s simply a matter of restraint and mindfulness—being conscious about the decisions we make and having boundaries.
He says that instant gratification:
“….leads to debt, clutter, bad health, distractions, mindlessness.”
While having restraint and consciousness:
“….leads to simplicity, health and fitness, focus, achievement, mindfulness, appreciation for all the gifts of life.”
In a luxury- and technology-centered world it is easy to become detached from our core values and the important things in life. We start to give priority to superficial things: objects, material wealth, acquisition, and appearance. We discard the need to acknowledge the future and possible consequences for our actions. We don’t consider waste, damage to our health or the environment, or other possible adverse effects of our immediate actions.
Indulging in instant gratification is shortsighted—the immediate pleasure we seek is fleeting.
Our dissatisfaction with short-lived pleasure causes our needs to be magnified the next time we seek fulfillment. This can often lead to disastrous and largely unforeseen costs like addiction. There are many examples of this. Overindulging in food, alcohol or drugs, technology such as the internet, gaming and gambling, even seemingly harmless indulgences like shopping or body image through diet and fitness can become obsessive and have counterproductive results. That doesn’t mean we have to completely discard our opportunities to enjoy these things. We just need to have limits and we need to be aware of how we do things and how much or how often we indulge.
That is the difference between living our life and wasting it. Of course, it is wise to live in the present and take advantage of the things that make us happy, but we need to do things in a healthy way and plan for the future. It takes foresight and consideration to ensure we achieve a balance.
The key to achieving long-term goals is finding the motivational tools that allow us to take small steps towards bigger objectives.
Leo Babauta describes five simple ideas to help us to resist the urges to aim for instant gratification. Instead of dwelling in the need to indulge in immediate pleasure, he suggests ways to stay mindful and in control. This will allow us to think of the long-term desires we can achieve, instead of needing constant stimulation.
Being mindful of the urges we experience is primary. He suggests keeping a physical list of every time we get the urge to do something and, instead of fulfilling it, just making a note of it. Examples of these urges include snacking, checking your phone, or buying something unnecessary.
He also points out that instead of denying your urges completely, just delay the gratification. Put a period of time, some space between when you feel an urge and when you gratify it.
The key is to practice consciousness and hone your awareness of what is happening in your mind and in your body. We sometimes indulge urges without even thinking and before we know it we’ve devoured the entire tub of ice cream or put another $1000 in a poker machine. If that’s exactly what you want to do, then fine, do it, but know that what you are doing is a conscious decision and own it. Take responsibility for it.
These skills take practice and it is important to allow yourself to learn lessons in good time. If instant gratification has been your way of life for a long time, don’t expect it to change overnight. Just get better with each experience. Allow yourself to fail and try and do better the next time an opportunity to practice resistance and mindfulness comes along.
Finally, you will have the strength and discipline to enjoy the moment without actually indulging the urge. It gives us a great sense of accomplishment and achievement when we realize how capable we are of exercising willpower. These skills can be extremely rewarding and sometimes lifesaving; quitting smoking is a prominent example that comes to mind.
Investing in our future is underrated. With focus and repetition, we can learn to plan for long-term goals and minimize our need for instant gratification. We can find a balance and still be able to enjoy the best things in life without overindulging and making decisions that will affect our lives adversely.
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