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Last Updated on December 14, 2020

How to Stop Struggling with Instant Gratification and Reach Your Goals

How to Stop Struggling with Instant Gratification and Reach Your Goals

Would you take $1 today or $5 after a month?

If you chose the second alternative, then more kudos to you. But research tells us that most people will go for the first option.

This is a classic example of what is called instant gratification.

Why We Prefer Instant Over Delayed Gratification

Let’s face it—instant rewards are great.

Remember how you felt when you won some money from a scratch-off lotto ticket or when you went on your last shopping spree?

You probably felt so elated. The high is unbeatable. It gives you an immediate feel-good sensation. It sounds like a good thing that we all should try to get more of.

Research tells us that we often lean toward seeking instant pleasure because of the uncertainty about the future.[1] After all, who knows if you will ever get the promised $5 in a month? A lot can happen in this timespan.

We all want to get what we what right away. So why prolong and deliberately make ourselves feel bad?

Given the undeniable feel-good benefits and its contribution to our overall happiness, it seems almost counter-intuitive that instant gratification has such a bad reputation.

Let us see why.

Why Instant Gratification Is Really Not So Great

The concept of gratification is tightly linked to another popular hero in psychology: self-control.

In a previous piece, I wrote about how each of us can get better at practicing self-control, which leads to a more fulfilling life.

As I noted in my other article How to Have Self-Control and Be the Master of Your Life:

“Study after study confirms that if we just find the way to strengthen our self-control, our lives will become so much better—we’ll eat healthier, exercise, won’t overspend, overdrink or overdo anything that’s bad for us. We will be able to achieve our goals much easier.”

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Many of us have heard of the famed Marshmallow test. It is the first of its kind to look behind the curtain and present hard evidence why instant gratification is not as beneficial as its counterpart—delayed gratification.

Done in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the test was simple enough. Researchers told children to either get only one treat now or get two if they were willing to wait for 15-20 minutes. It is not hard to guess that most youngsters went for the I-want-it-now option. This proved that most of us do not like to wait for rewards.

Where it got more interesting, though, is that the researchers tracked the children for a few years afterward. They discovered that the ones who were able to restrain themselves fared much better later in life—academically, career-wise, financially, and in their relationships.[2]

Simply put:

Although on the surface it may appear that instant gratification is the better route to wellbeing, research confirms otherwise. The ability to practice self-control and discipline pays off much more later on in life. It’s directly linked to goal achievement and success.

Just think about it—how many times have you regretted the decisions that you made on a whim? A shopping spree at the mall may give you an instant shot of happiness—true—but you probably do not feel so great when you have to pay your credit card afterward.

Or how often have you changed your mind about what you bought and returned it? We all have been there, of course.

The good news, though, is that we all can become better at controlling our impulses.

Here are some ways to get you started.

7 Ways to Get Better at Delayed Gratification

1. Get Yourself Distracted

In the original Marshmellow experiment, the researchers pointed out some of the strategies the children used to help restrain themselves from eating the treat right away.[3]

“They made up quiet songs . . . hid their head in their arms, pounded the floor with their feet, fiddled playfully and teasingly with the signal bell, verbalized the contingency . . . prayed to the ceiling, and so on. In one dramatically effective self-distraction technique, after obviously experiencing much agitation, a little girl rested her head, sat limply, relaxed herself, and proceeded to fall sound asleep.”

Following the same steps, the next time you feel temptation rising, try to divert your attention to something else. Call a friend, watch a Youtube video, take a few breaths or sing a song. Wait a bit for the urge to subdue.

What matters is that you do not succumb to the first impulse that comes to your mind.

2. Daydream

Research has found that letting your mind wander helps you focus on the bigger picture and your long-term goals. And being less “present-biased” can help curb the impulse to make decisions you may later want to reverse.[4]

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Therefore, we should all take mental breaks more often.

Let your thoughts drift away, look out of the window, sit idle for a while. At work, Fast Company advises against jumping from one mental task to another because this consumes lots of cognitive energy.[5]

“Even if it’s just sitting right there at your desk, looking away from your computer screen and just staring off for a few moments to see where your thoughts take you.”

3. Remind Yourself of Your Goals

Delayed gratification, in its essence, is the ability to reach our long terms goals and dreams, Tony Robbins tells us.[6]

It is giving up the instant high by putting off a purchase today to buy, for example, your dream house in a few years. It is a sacrifice you need to make on the things you need to forego for the bigger ambition.

Keep a picture of your dream on your phone and look at it daily, especially when you feel the temptation, he advises. Remind yourself how far you’ve come, how proud you are of yourself and your discipline.

Alternatively, keep a vision board with all the great things you want to achieve in the future. Aren’t your dreams worth of the little discomfort you may feel today?

Tell yourself this every day, and this may help to subdue the urge to break your discipline. It will make delayed gratification easier.

4. Get an Accountability Partner

Accountability partners are a great way to keep yourself on track, especially if you are afraid that your self-control may slip. It can be anyone—your spouse, colleague, friend—acting as the voice of reason.

For instance, if you want to save money, know which expenses are essential and which ones are not. Plan what you have to do if you break the rules and know what the consequences will be. The more details you have the better prepared you will be to fight off the urge to overspend.

The same goes for every aspect of your life—losing weight, quitting smoking or other vices, saving for retirement, or any other goal you are after. You do not have to go through this alone. Share your plans and aspirations with someone you trust and ask them to keep you on track.

It will still be challenging, but you may find it a tad easier to follow through with your plans when you have an accountability buddy.

5. Keep in Mind the Wording and the Consequences

In a study from 2014, participants were asked the following questions:

Would you prefer to receive $6 today or $8.50 in 46 days? (called a hidden-zero format)

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Would you prefer to receive $6 today and $0 in 45 days, or $0 today and $8.50 in 46 days? (called an explicit-zero format).

Results showed that when people were presented with choices in the explicit-zero format, the lure of instant gratification was significantly lower.[7]

This means that immediate rewards were less appealing, and the participants chose delayed rewards versus the immediate ones.

We can all make better choices without having to put more effort, but rather, by giving people more choices and presenting the available options differently.

6. Start With the End in Mind

In his excellent book The 7 Habits of Highly Efficient People, the renowned American author and speaker Stephen Covey talks about the benefits of that very same habit.

It is a very simple idea—imagine your end goal and work backward to the present day. Outline the steps you need to take, how long it will take you to complete each one, what you need to do in terms of skills, knowledge, and resources, and the contingency plans you will have if things go sideways.

This concept synchronizes nicely with the see-the-bigger-picture advice, but it goes a bit further because it also focuses on the specific steps of how to achieve your goals.

Of course, a large contributor to the successful completion of any undertaking lies in the amount of self-control we can exercise and the discipline we have. Sacrificing our immediate pleasure today can pay hefty dividends in the future, as many studies have shown.

Visualization is also a big part of this process.

It is a technique, sworn to be highly effective by athletes, actors, coaches, and many others. Made popular by the books Think and Grow Richby Napoleon Hill and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, it is certainly a mind-changing way of looking at achievement and success.

Seeing your accomplished self in the future can give you a great motivational boost, and it can help you overcome impulsive behaviors more easily.

7. The Seinfeld Strategy

Remember the show, Seinfeld? It was co-created by Jerry Seinfeld and is still considered to be one of the funniest shows ever to play on TV. It had phenomenal success.

But according to New York Times best-selling author James Clear,[8] the most impressive thing about it is “the remarkable consistency of it all.”

The show was thriving and drawing large audiences, year after year, without failing. It delivered consistently high-quality entertainment.

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How did Jerry Seinfeld do it?

The secret really comes down to persistence.

The way to become a good comedian is to write jokes every day. Do not deviate; do not break the chain. It is a great way to stop procrastinating and keep going until you reach your goal.

It goes without saying, to be successful at doing this, you need to summon your good-old buddies “self-control” and “discipline”. You have to forego some momentary pleasures (e.g., going out to the bar with friends) for the long-term prize (e.g., finishing the book you are working on).

Final Thoughts

We live in a quick-moving world—of fast food, speedy internet, live streaming, online shopping, and new versions of pretty much everything every few months.

Life moves quite fast. And we have become used to expecting immediate outcomes. We feel impatient and agitated when we have to wait to get what we want.

It is barely surprising then that delayed gratification is so challenging to practice, and self-control is something many of us struggle with. Surely, it is not easy.

But according to years of research and studies, instant gratification is not the route to long-term happiness, wellbeing, and financial security, although it may feel good at the moment.

On the contrary, the good things come to those who are patient, those who have learned to embrace the pause, and those who think about the bigger picture. You need to keep your eyes on your end goals and have a plan on how to get there with contingency solutions in-between.

Yes, it may sound tedious and unappealing, unlike flashing a new watch or a purse and getting high on the compliments and the envy. But playing the long game is certainly the right road to the land of success.

That is if we are to believe pretty much everyone who has made it in this world.

More Tips to Help You Discipline Yourself Better

Featured photo credit: Andrea Leopardi via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It) How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them for a Fulfilling Life How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life How to Stop Struggling with Instant Gratification and Reach Your Goals What Is External Motivation And How to Make Good Use of It?

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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

30 Goals To Set For Yourself Before Turning Into 40s

30 Goals To Set For Yourself Before Turning Into 40s

Some people believe that once they’ve passed the age of 30, they’re too old to do something new and exciting; that it’s time for them to settle down.

If you have found your dream job, and are clear about your purpose of life, then go ahead and live your best life! However, it’s never too late to dream a new dream and set some new goals.

The vast majority of the people focus on their careers and how much they need to earn, but there are certain things you should do to create unforgettable memories and make yourself proud of what you managed to accomplish.

Whereas there are countless ideas which vary on your attitude and lifestyle, the following list is full of things anyone should try.

1. Visit a new continent.

New continent means a whole new experience, different culture and tons of interesting people to meet. Everyone should visit another continent at least once in a lifetime, it’s a priceless experience.

2. Travel to at least 20 countries.

Each new country you visit is an original life lesson and unique memories. The more countries you travel to, the better you can compare them and draw conclusions from people’s behavior, culture, and rituals. By spending time in different environments, we can learn a lot about ourselves.

3. Make at least one friend in every country you visit.

Traveling somewhere without making a new friend there is a huge loss. By interacting with local people, you may have a chance to learn about the secret facts of that very location and explore some mysterious places. What’s more, creating a bond with the locals creates an opportunity to revisit the country cheaper by being hosted by the people you’ve met.

4. Take a spontaneous trip.

Without planning every single detail, pack all the necessary stuff and set off into the unknown. You don’t even have to leave your country, the key is to make it impromptu, face what life throws at you and see how you can deal with that. Once the trip is over, you’ll learn some incredible lessons that you wouldn’t have by booking an all-inclusive vacation.

Catching a last-minute flight to a random destination might be a starting point for a serious adventure.

5. Learn a new language.

Do you know what’s the Bill Gates’ most regretted thing is? It’s not learning a second language. During your travel, it’s a great opportunity to practice your language skills with locals. While you are at home, you can learn the basics using books, attending a course or through online programs. And then, once you have a chance to speak with native speakers, this will be the moment when you learn the most. During just a few months of attending a German high school, I learned far more than spending two years of practice with books (though it was a good preparation).

6. Go Bungee Jumping.

This idea may seem crazy to you, but it’s just a warm up comparing to the next one. Bungee jumping is an insane way to face your fears and do something against common sense. As for me, it’s a valuable lesson which emphasizes the fact that even the scariest things turn out to be tolerable once you go through them.

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7. Skydive.

As I promised, this one is hardcore. Experience the unstoppable power of gravitation and see the world from a different perspective. Though I didn’t skydive yet, doing it at least once is definitely on my bucket list.

8. Face your worst fear.

Whatever you fear, most probably it’s a mental issue and not a real danger. There’re countless phobias people suffer from. I don’t know what’s yours, but I dare you to test your limits and see how far you can go.

9. Stand on top of a mountain.

And get there going on a foot. The view from the top is invaluable and unique. You literally feel the power of nature and see how small we actually are comparing to the natural forces.

10. Boost your financial stability.

Before you turning into 40, becoming financially independent is almost mandatory. To avoid getting lost in debt and make the money work for you and not vice versa, you should devote some time to learning finances. This 14-day plan is a great way to start.

11. Create your personal emergency fund.

Saving money regularly is a life-saving habit once you are in financial troubles. Most experts suggest your emergency fund should allow yourself to cover at least 3 months of living expenses. While you are busy making your dreams come true and doing crazy things, be aware that accidents do happen, so having a financial security is definitely helpful while you’ll be figuring out the alternative plan to solve your problems.

12. Create an online business on the side.

Nowadays, there are endless ways to make some extra money online. A legit method almost anyone can try out is monetizing your skills through creating an online course or ebook. It’s a great way to cover additional expenses and learn a bit of entrepreneurship from real life experience. Maybe you’ll even be able to leave your 9–5 and create your dream lifestyle making money from any place in the world like digital nomads do.

To learn more, check out these 24 easy ways to make money on the internet.

13. Develop a habit of daily exercising.

The older you are, the more likely you are to lead a sedentary lifestyle which is a horrible tendency. To avoid it, focus on creating healthy habits. There’s no excuse for not finding at least 20 minutes a day to train. You can try out bodyweight workouts or go for a quick run.

Your body will be incredibly grateful and serve you well for longer.

Although he has one of the most exacting jobs you can imagine, Barrack Obama works out for 45-minute every day. It’s a habit everyone should borrow.

14. Start eating healthy.

Diet-related problems are a huge concern in today’s world. More than one-third U.S. adults are obese. Mostly, because of unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Taking care of your eating patterns is mandatory if you keep your health. The more you put it off, there more likely you are to never get started.

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In a nutshell, choose unprocessed, whole products and avoid junk food with huge amounts of sugar, salt, and fat.

15. Get in the best shape of your life.

There are some living miracles like C.T. Fletcher who achieved the best shape during his 50s. However, now is always the perfect moment to do that. Educate yourself about nutrition, maybe invest in a personal coach and commit to fully transform your body. There are countless 1-year transformations on Youtube which serve as a great source of inspiration.

Once you are in your life’s best shape, go on a photo session so you can proudly show your grandchildren how shredded you once were.

16. Become a disciplined person.

Self-discipline is an enormously useful skill when it comes to making your dreams become a reality. Without discipline, you can’t stick to your commitments and work toward your goals. Becoming a person with rules will have a positive impact on your future self.

The fact is, you can either control yourself or let yourself control you. If you dream of a meaningful life, you’ll definitely aim for the first option.

This free self-discipline book is a good resource to begin with.

17. Become a morning person.

The majority of the most successful people swear by the power of being an early riser. Whether it’s CEOs, world’s best athletes or other outstanding individuals, most of them have a morning routine which highly contributes to their success.

Morning ritual empowers your day and gives you an advantage over the rest of the world which still sleeps while you work to become a better self.

18. Read at leat 100 books.

Whatever your problem is, there is at least one decent book offering a solution. Books hide incredible value and knowledge. The sad fact is, however, more and more people prefer TV shows or video games.

Once I became a regular reader, I realized how much you miss out if you refuse to read. The impact books have made (and still make) on my life is gigantic.

Start to finish reading at least one book a month, and you will have completed 12 book a year!

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If you don’t know which books to choose, check out this post.

19. Write a book.

81% of the population feels they could write a book, but only the minority takes action and starts writing. The truth is, once you begin to write, you are a writer. Finishing a book is challenging but the sense of satisfaction afterward is definitely worth it.

Pick a topic and devote 30 minutes a day to writing. In a year or even sooner, you’ll not only drastically improve your language skills but also finish your first book.

Nowadays, when self-publishing becomes more and more popular, you can release your work avoiding the middlemen and maybe even discover that your calling turns out to be a writer. You don’t know until you try…

20. Write a letter to your future self.

Make sure to include your dreams, expectations and plans. Decide how much time needs to go by until you open your letter. Once you do it, it will be the moment of truth and a chance to see whether you became who you wanted to be.

If you prefer modern technology, you can write an email to your future self using free services like futureme.org.

21. Go offline for a whole month.

Imagine no Facebook, Internet, Reddit or Lifehack for the whole month. This 30-day challenge tests your ability to entertain yourself in the world ruled by technology, avoiding the Internet and computers completely. To make it even more spicy, cut off the television.

It’s a great opportunity to spend more time with your friends and family, focus on your passions and read more books.

22. Take a picture every day for a whole year.

I doubt there are many mementos better than this. Once the year is over, you create a time-lapse which shows portrait by portrait how you changed during the 365 days.

Watching it 20 years later will probably make you cry.

23. Make a list of things that truly make you happy.

And make sure to do these activities as often as possible. You can have all the money in the world and a career that society considers the most successful, yet you can feel miserable. It’s because the real happiness comes from experiences, self-realization, and contribution. While you discover the world checking off the things from this list, try to find out which environment makes you the happiest person in the world.

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Whenever you face a hard moment, take out your happiness-list and start doing one of the things from it. As a result, the bad emotion fades away much quicker.

24. Complete the integrity challenge.

Integrity challenge is an idea from I borrowed from Joel Runyon. Oftentimes our actions don’t represent our thoughts and commitments. This weird phenomenon is most visible when a new year begins and most of the people fail to stick to their resolutions. The way it works is simple. Choose one thing, ideally an uncomfortable task like daily jogging for 30 minutes, determine the timeframe (e.g. 90 days) and then just do your thing every single day without failing even once until you arrive at the finish line.

This test points out your weaknesses and questions your willpower. However, once you accomplish it successfully, it gives you a huge motivation boost to pursue more complex goals which every 20-something should aim at.

25. Help a homeless person to get back to a normal life.

Our life isn’t only about ourselves but also about the people around us. There are many folks who really need help but are ignored by the majority of the society. Imagine supporting a homeless person with the goal in mind to make them a self-sufficient member of the community again.

If you feel miserable, be aware that giving back is one of the fastest methods to make yourself incredibly happy.

26. Donate to a local foundation.

The amount of your donation doesn’t matter, the fact of doing it does. Imagine if everyone (who’s financially independent) donated a dollar a month to a foundation of choice. It seems small but once you add up all the donations, the sum can make a huge difference in other people’s lives.

27. Stop looking for other people’s approval.

This is an especially useful yet rare skill. We definitely care way too much about how others perceive us which in result lowers your self-esteem and confidence as well as makes you overthink the simple choices. Abandoning the validation completely is tough, but it’s worth working toward it.

Once you accept the inevitable disapproval, you can become your true and authentic self. To get started, have a look at this post.

28. Learn to say no.

Saying no at the right moment is a habit which guarantees you a better life. However, the tendency in most people is quite the opposite. They say yes way too much and end up with unnecessary commitments and responsibilities which don’t add any value to their lives.

Now is when you should finally grasp that. There are plenty of things you don’t need to say yes to all the time.

29. Make a DIY furniture.

Do it yourself” movement grows in popularity and some of the ideas people come up with are seriously unbelievable. Creating your own piece of furniture boosts your creativity, tests your manual skills and saves you money. The satisfaction after putting your favorite books on a hand-made shelf beats every commercial furniture.

30. Spend a night under the stars.

As for me, watching the sky in the night is the best way to get the existential buzz. It’s a beautiful scenario to contemplate about your life, plans, and the future. Pitch a tent in the nature, make a bonfire, invite your loved ones and fire your imagination with the stars.

Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

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