The science-backed reasons why you should stop desiring instant gratification.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could suddenly sell a million copies of your book, build a seven-figure business or have so much passive income, you don’t need to work another day in your life? Sure, an overnight success story is the stuff dreams are made of. All of us want to reap the rewards without putting in years of hard work.
But here’s the bitter truth: experts say overnight success creates addictive tendencies and might make you more impulsive. The inability to control your whims might lead to always seeking short-term pleasure. This can drastically reduce your ability to reach your highest potential.
This article takes a look at the science behind why expecting results immediately is not going to work for you in the long run. It delves into how this habit might actually be holding you back from achieving all that you’re capable of. It also lays out a step-by-step guide to how you can avoid the temptations of succumbing to instant gratification and really focus on committing to a long-term goal.
Why Immediate Results Are So Desirable
There’s a concept in economics known as term preference that refers to the importance people tend to place on future outcomes as compared to current outcomes. While the research presents conflicting results in many aspects, it’s reasonable to conclude that when all other factors remain constant, humans tend to prefer instant gratification (have a high time preference) over delayed gratification (low time preference).
According to Psychology Today, most people desire immediate results because of the following reasons:
- A desire to avoid delay: Evolution has programmed humans to seize the reward at hand. Even today, resisting this instinct is hard.
- Lack of imagination: Most people fail to envision what the future might look like. Hence, when presented with the choice between a lesser reward now and a better reward in the future, they tend to choose the former.
- Impulsiveness: People who are driven by emotion have a harder time delaying gratification. They act on a whim as the dopamine in their brains gets fired up, and might end up regretting their actions afterwards.
- Time dilation: When people crave a reward with all their heart, time seems to pass painfully slow. In such a situation, they will rather settle for any reward they get, without considering the possibility that waiting it out might result in better gifts in the future.
Expecting immediate results might cause you to feel demotivated when your efforts don’t yield overnight success. This might deter you from working further towards the goal and cause you to abandon projects mid-way. Let’s take a look at what research has to say about our innate need to seek instant gratification.
Not Seeking Immediate Results Can Make You A Better Person
Immediate results can feel good in the moment. But make it a habit, and you might fall into a routine of seeking short-term fixes for long-term problems. The human brain is wired to prioritise short-term needs over long-term goals. This was established in the Stanford marshmallow test of 1972, where psychologist Walter Mischel offered 4-year-old children the chance to eat one marshmallow now (immediate result) or wait a while and get two (delayed gratification). In the follow-up studies, it was established that,
“those who had waited longer in this situation at 4 years of age were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were more academically and socially competent than their peers and more able to cope with frustration and resist temptation.”
The ability to work on a long-term project and wait for results is a vital psychological resource. When you commit to a goal and are prepared to wait for something you really desire, the delay in gratification ensures you enjoy your ultimate reward even more.
According to Psychology Today, expecting immediate results can create problems by changing your brain, distracting you from more meaningful and ultimately rewarding pursuits, and leading to destructive financial, social, and health outcomes.
Re-wiring Your Brain to Stop Seeking Immediate Results
No matter what your field of choice is, to be successful, you need to ignore doing something easy that provides instant gratification and start focusing on the harder tasks. So, how can you calm your brain and make the right decisions?
1. Start super small
The most important part of committing to a long-term goal is to stay consistent. Start with an incredibly simple habit that’s so small; you can’t even bring yourself to say no to.
For example: if your goal is to get shredded and have a six-pack, start by exercising for 1 minute a day. Or if you want to be a bestselling writer, start by reading a few pages of your favourite book each night.
2. The 2-Minute Rule
As James Clear quotes in his book, Atomic Habits, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” Scale down your chosen task to a two-minute version of it.
Reading a book can be scaled down to reading one page. Going for a 5K run can be scaled down to wearing your workout clothes and running shoes.
The point is to master the habit of showing up. Before improving on a habit, it must be well and truly established and ingrained into your daily schedule.
3. Focus on small increments
If you focus on getting just 1% better each day at your chosen skill, you’ll be 37 times better at it after a year has passed. As these small improvements accumulate, the results will come faster than you could have ever imagined.
The only rule here is to focus on getting a little bit better today. Do it again tomorrow.
4. The Chain-on-the-Calendar strategy
Get a big calendar that has a whole year on one page and place it where you can see it through most of your day. Next, get a big red marker and put an X over each day you do your task. According to Clear,
“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”
This is a solid strategy to stop obsessing over results. Get yourself so obsessed about not breaking the chain, that you can’t even imagine procrastinating on your habit.
It’s easy to get disheartened if you don’t see immediate results for your hard work. But research has shown the success that comes after long periods of hard work and commitment. It can also help you build self-control and become a better person.
Don’t obsess over results. Instead, focus on doing your bit daily and sticking to your promise by starting small, showing up each day, improving a little every day, and maintaining a habit tracker.
Don’t obsess over results. They will come in due time. Trust the universe and give all you got to the process. There’s no way consistency and constant upgrading of skills won’t be rewarded.
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