How to overcome instant gratification and live your best life
Woman meditating in the woods
Photo by Omin Armin
Instant gratification rewires the brain, causing you to live in a more childish state. The ability to buy or do anything you want at the touch of a button interferes with development and can reduce cognitive function.
If you think you’re living at the mercy of instant gratification, do not fear. You can do some practical things to help yourself.
Find Your Purpose
Choosing a long-term reward over a short-term gain is far easier if you have a particular goal in mind. People who engage in constant instant gratification often lack direction.
Choose an area of your life you want to improve — for example, your career, relationship, community or health. Explore what you truly want and need from this area of your life, and set an attainable but challenging long-term goal, broken into smaller, manageable chunks. Use visualization techniques to keep this goal at the front of your mind, or write it down each morning to remind yourself of your purpose and the life you want to lead.
Both instant gratification and meditation practice have a physical impact on your brain, but the impact is wildly different. Instant gratification leads to impulsiveness and irrational behavior based on emotion and want. Meditation can have the opposite effect, helping you to manage your emotions and impulses, stay mindful in your daily life, and ground yourself in your truest values and long-term goals.
Meditating for even a few minutes a day can help to rewire your brain and undo the damage of indulging in instant gratification.
It’s easy to place blame when it comes to instant gratification. It’s so easy to purchase or attain anything you want instantly, and everyone is doing it all the time, so you’re no different from anyone else, right?
To overcome impulsive, emotion-driven behavior, it’s important to stay accountable to yourself. You are responsible for everything you do, and developing self-control is in your power.
Addiction recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous recommend making a moral inventory and reviewing it daily. While this might seem extreme, checking in with yourself daily about your long-term goals and any impulsive behavior you’ve engaged in might be a good way to monitor yourself and make changes.
Boredom is unpleasant, and it is natural to seek distractions to alleviate this discomfort. But building a tolerance for boredom can help you make better choices.
You can build up your tolerance to boredom through practice. Next time you are in a situation where you have to wait, possibly at a bus stop or in line at a store, avoid reaching for your phone. Force yourself to stay present and notice your boredom levels. The less you reach for your phone, the more you will be able to tolerate short moments of boredom.
This skill naturally transfers to other areas of your life, such as managing impatience when waiting for a response to an important email.
Instant gratification is everywhere, and it’s overpowering and addictive. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s unavoidable or that you are not strong enough to overcome it. But like any addiction, it can be overcome with hard work, perseverance and self-compassion.
The key is to build confidence in your ability to avoid instant gratification traps by setting small targets, such as making yourself wait at least 24 hours to purchase things rather than impulsively spend online. Use reward charts or tracking apps to monitor your progress, and be kind to yourself if you slip up. Over time, as you convince yourself you are able to overcome the need for instant gratification, you can focus on more targets.
Instant gratification affects the brain, but thanks to neuroplasticity, you can reclaim your mind, develop the skills to make better choices and start living your best life. The benefits of instant gratification are just that — instant. To build a meaningful life based on purpose, values and long-term goals, it is important to stay mindful and focused.
Engaging in instant gratification is not always bad, as long as you think through your choices and don’t choose the instant option at the expense of a personal value or long-term goal.