Courtney Ackerman. 19 June, 2018
Psychologist Shahram Heshmat outlines 10 reasons why it is so difficult to sidestep this urge (2016):
- A desire to avoid delay: it’s uncomfortable to engage in self-denial, and all of our instincts are to seize any opportunity for pleasure as it comes.
- Uncertainty: generally, we are born with nearly infinite certainty and trust in others, but over time we learn to be less sure of the reliability of others and of our future; this uncertainty can cause us to value the less beneficial but certain-and-immediate over the more beneficial uncertain-and-long-term.
- Age: as you have likely already noted, younger people have a tendency to be more impulsive, while older people with more life experience are better able to delay and temper their urges.
- Imagination: choosing delayed gratification requires the ability to envision your desired future if you forego your current desire; if you cannot paint a vivid picture of your future, you have little motivationto plan for it.
- Cognitive capacity: higher intelligence is linked to a more forward-thinking perspective; those who are born with more innate intelligence have a tendency to see the benefits of delayed gratification and act in accordance.
- Poverty: even when we see the wisdom in delaying gratification, poverty can make the decision complicated and even more difficult; if you have an immediate, basic need that is begging to be met (e.g., food, shelter), it’s unlikely you will choose to forego that need in order to receive any future benefit.
- Impulsiveness: some of us are simply more impulsive or spontaneous than others, which makes delaying gratification that much more difficult; this trait is associated with problems like substance abuse and obesity.
- Emotion regulation: individual differences in emotion regulation also impact our tendency towards instant vs. delayed gratification; emotional distress makes us lean towards choices that will immediately improve our mood, and those who have developed emotion regulation problems are especially at risk.
- Mood: even those with healthy emotion regulation can be led astray by their current mood; we all experience bad moods, boredom, and impatience—all of which serve to make immediate desires that much more seductive.
- Anticipation: finally, the experience of anticipation can influence our decisions to delay gratification or seek it immediately in either direction; humans generally like to anticipate positive things and dislike the anticipation of negative things, which can lead to decisions to put things off or to engage in them as quickly as possible to seek pleasure or avoid discomfort.
6 Examples of Instant Gratification
There are so many examples of instant gratification that it might seem easier to list examples of delayed gratification! However, humans engage in delayed gratification more often than you might think. After all, if everyone pursued instant gratification all the time, would anyone actually make the trek into work early in the morning unless they absolutely loved their job?
Some particularly salient examples of instant gratification that you can likely spot around you include:
- The urge to indulge in a high-calorie treat instead of a snack that will contribute to good health.
- The desire to hit snooze instead of getting up early to exercise.
- The temptation to go out for drinks with your friends instead of finishing a paper or studying for an exam.
- The temptation to go out for drinks with your friends instead of getting a good night’s sleep on a work night (this is one temptation that crosses generational bounds!).
- The desire to buy a new car that will require a high-interest loan instead of waiting until you have saved enough money to buy it without taking a loan.
- The urge to spend all your time with a new beau instead of working towards your long-term goals.
You have probably noticed that at least one or two of these examples apply to you. Don’t worry—a little instant gratification now and then won’t hurt! If you find yourself constantly choosing the immediate over the long-term, however, you might be struggling with an instant gratification bias. Read on to learn how to address this bias.