Work is tough. Isn’t watching TV more fun? Sure, you’d like to be fit and thin, but wouldn’t it be more fun to order a pizza instead? You’ll start that diet tomorrow. Sound familiar? These impulses define instant gratification—that urge to forget our responsibilities and indulge in the present moment at the expense of tomorrow. There are plenty of instant gratification examples out there—and we’re all guilty of foregoing discipline to satisfy our inner child once in a while.
In this post, we discuss instant gratification, including instant gratification examples, the consequences of instant gratification, and the benefits of delayed gratification.
The Instant Gratification Monkey
Instant gratification definition: the urge to sacrifice a future benefit for a more immediate but less rewarding benefit.
The Instant Gratification Monkey is a character created by Tim Urban to represent the child inside all of us who wants to have fun instead of getting down to work. According to Tim, there are three characters who live inside our brains, the Rational Decision-Maker, the Instant Gratification Monkey, and the Panic Monster.
The Rational Decision-Maker is the part of us that wants to stick to the plan and make sensible decisions. They know it makes more sense to delay gratification until the work gets done. “Yes, it would be more fun to order a pizza and watch Game of Thrones in my pajamas, but I need to start writing this article to keep my job and be successful.”
The Instant Gratification Monkey doesn’t play like that. Work is no fun, so why would he want any part of it? Whenever you set out with the best intentions to accomplish a task but become distracted by social media, YouTube videos, and the like, that’s the Instant Gratification Monkey taking the wheel out of the Rational Decision-Maker’s hands. The Instant Gratification Monkey would say, “That’s all well and good, buddy, but success is a future problem. I want to have fun right now. NOW!”
The Instant Gratification Monkey’s only concern is finding pleasure in the present moment—consequences be damned. He’s a very persuasive and persistent fellow, and the only thing that scares the Instant Gratification Monkey is the Panic Monster.
The Panic Monster stops the Instant Gratification Monkey in his tracks. The Panic Monster shows up on the eve of a deadline and shocks the Rational Decision-Maker into action by scaring the Instant Gratification Monkey up a tree. The Panic Monster is what causes procrastinators and instant gratification seekers to pull all-nighters in order to get their work done.
Instant gratification is the mortal enemy of discipline. Finding success in anything, whether relationships, jobs, weight loss, or hobbies, is impossible if we constantly forego hard work to have fun and indulge instead.
Instant Gratification Examples and What to Do Instead
Hitting the snooze is a prime example of instant gratification. Who wants to get out of bed to get ready for work when you could have five more minutes of cozy dreams? The trouble is, five more minutes isn’t earning you any real rest. You’re just reducing the time you have to clean yourself up, make a meal, and prepare your body and mind for the day ahead.
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If you’re someone who regularly hits the snooze, try keeping your phone or alarm clock across the room instead of beside your bed. When your alarm goes off, you won’t be able to stick a single hand out from underneath the covers and haphazardly slap at the button; you’ll have to remove your covers, expose your body to the cold air, get up, and move. Once you get up, there’s a good chance you’ll have to use the bathroom, and there you have it, you’re awake.
Snacking Before a Meal
Yes, the delicious meal you’re cooking (or the one that’s being cooked for you) is only 15 minutes away from being ready, but you’re hungry now, so you open up a bag of chips to munch on while you wait. The chips won’t be as satisfying or nourishing as the meal, but you’re only concerned with finding immediate relief.
Patience! Not only are you spoiling your appetite (sorry, your parents were right) and hindering your future enjoyment of the meal, but you’re adding empty calories into your diet. If your stomach feels empty, drink water. If you need to chew something, chew gum. If you really need to eat something in between meals, choose a small portion of brain-healthy foods, such as nuts, vegetables, or berries.
Completing Small To-Dos Instead of Larger Tasks
Procrastination and instant gratification don’t have to be exclusively about avoiding work. Choosing to tackle several little tasks first when you have a big task to accomplish is another example of instant gratification. You’re getting the satisfaction of getting things done without accomplishing the task you actually need to focus on. You’re achieving gratification in the moment while hindering your future success.
Have you heard of the Pickle Jar Theory? Imagine a pickle jar. The jar is your workday. Rocks, pebbles, and sand represent your tasks. The size of the rock depends on how important the task is. If you fill your jar with pebbles and sand, you won’t be able to add your big rock. But if you add the big rock first, the pebbles and sand can fill the spaces around it. It’s just the same with your work. Tackle your big task first, and then worry about the smaller to-dos.
Social media is designed to continually give you instant gratification—that is its primary function. If you grow bored with your work and decide to look at social media, it’s going to take effort to pull yourself away because the algorithm is designed to track what you like and then fill your feed with the same content. There will always be something new and intriguing to look at.
To avoid social media, keep your phone away from you when you work. If that’s not possible, there are website and app blockers you can add to both your phone and computer that will lock you out of accessing the distracting sites you’re most prone to looking at.
Watching Another Episode Instead of Going to Bed
It can be tempting to delay sleep in order to watch another episode of a show you’re really into. While that’s certainly more fun than getting ready for bed, you should avoid blue light before bed in order to have a more restful sleep. It’s also important to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, so if watching another episode is going to cut into your required amount of sleep, you’ll wake up tomorrow irritable, drowsy, and anxious, with impaired memory and reduced energy.
Actions have consequences. Think through your choices. Will watching another episode really be all that pleasurable if it means you have to spend the next day grumpy and unproductive? Get to bed so that you can wake up tomorrow rested and prepared for the day. Treat yourself to the episode tomorrow night. Think of it as your own personal reward for having another productive day.
The Benefits of Delayed Gratification
There’s no quick fix when it comes to overcoming our desire for instant gratification. It requires discipline, which takes a long time to build, and a lifetime to maintain. Discipline requires constant vigilance, as your desires won’t simply go away—just ask the Instant Gratification Monkey that’s swinging from vine to vine in your brain right now. But the more you practice delaying gratification, the easier the urge will be to manage.
Becoming disciplined in one area of your life will help you extend that discipline to other areas, such as eating habits, work habits, exercise, relationships, and so on.
Discipline necessitates that we think through the consequences and benefits of our actions. It’s important to live in the moment, but not at the expense of tomorrow. What value will that last glass of wine bring to your tomorrow-self? How will you feel when you sit down to dinner after having already eaten half a bag of chips? When you wake up tomorrow after binge-watching that television show, will you be happy with yourself, or will you be groggy and disappointed?
If this advice is making your inner Instant Gratification Monkey bored, tell him to think about Star Wars. As Jedi Master Yoda says to a young Luke Skywalker, “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind… If you leave your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil.”
Channel your inner Jedi Knight and learn to delay gratification in favor of mindfulness, self-awareness, and discipline.
Better Decision Making
Delaying gratification and better decision making go hand in hand, as delaying gratification forces you carefully consider the outcomes of your decisions.
For example, take looking at your phone when you’re supposed to be working. The next time you think of picking up your phone, remember that it takes about 23 minutes to get back to a task after being interrupted. If you scroll social media for five or more minutes, that’s 30 minutes gone from your workday.
Delaying gratification in order to think through the consequences of your actions will help you make better, more rational decisions.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
As all procrastinators discover, putting something off doesn’t make it go away. Eventually, the Panic Monster is going to wake up, and you’re going to have to face the consequences of your actions. This knowledge is extremely stressful, even before the Panic Monster shows up to spoil the fun. How much fun do you honestly have procrastinating when you’ve got a huge task looming over your head?
Delaying gratification removes the anxiety and shame that often follows instant gratification. Getting down to work and saving fun for later means you don’t have to stress over your approaching deadline; you can channel all of that nervous energy into actually accomplishing your task in a timely manner. When that task is done, you can reward yourself without any anxiety or guilt.
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