The Marshmallow Effect
In 1972, researchers published a study about the effects of instant gratification. In the study, children were given a marshmallow. They were told that they could either eat the marshmallow now, or wait 15 minutes and be given a second marshmallow. Most children could not wait 15 minutes for the second marshmallow. The study itself was simple, but it is indicative of a larger, more troubling phenomena. Much like the children who immediately ate the marshmallows, our entire society emphasizes the rewards of instant gratification. This craving for immediate gratification is dangerous since it sacrifices the future for now.
A World of Now
We don't need to wait for anything. We can pick up the phone and order a pizza to be delivered in 30 minutes without having to put any effort into cooking. If we want new shoes but don't have enough money to buy them, we can just swipe our credit cards and worry about the costs later.
We live in a world where we don't even need to wait for sex. Our culture supports jumping headfirst into physical and sexual relationships without emphasizing a need to develop intimacy and love. Rather than sex being a byproduct of a deeply loving relationship, it becomes a precursor to it.
The Future Matters
If we were able to clearly see the consequences of all decisions that we could make, there are many things that we would not do; unfortunately we live in a world that does not ask us to consider the consequences of our decisions. But whether we think about them or not, our actions are still our actions and all actions still have consequences. Despite the fact that we are encouraged to act quickly, we still have to live our our lives with the results of those choices. Our future selves must face the results of the poor choices that we make today, and we often burden our future selves with regret. A life full of regret can feel very slow indeed.
Learn to Delay Gratification
We are not slaves to the world that we live in, and despite the pressure around us, we can learn to slow down and wait for the things in life that are important. With enough practice, anyone can overcome the intoxicating pull of immediate gratification. Below are some of my ideas at how to slow down and delay gratification, and here is a post about how I personally challenge the status quo.
1. Set a Goal
If you have a clear idea of what you are trying to get out of your life, or out of a particular experience, you are much more likely to act with care. If you can visualize the future, it's less likely that you will take an action today that threatens that future.
2. Take it Slow
You won't go from a now-er to a later-er overnight. Be patient with yourself and know that you will probably make mistakes. Try to break down your decisions into small pieces that feel more manageable.
3. Reward Yourself
Make sure that you take time to recognize progress that you are making towards your goals. Delaying gratification doesn't mean never experiencing it. Make sure that when you achieve something that you have worked hard for, that you really allow yourself to enjoy it.