If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times: Good things come to those who wait. But, do they really? It’s hard to believe that when staring down your favorite dessert! Instant gratification is something the modern world has come to expect, for better or worse.
Whether it’s diet, dating, or shopping habits, impulsiveness is often the name of the game for some of us. But is immediate gratification harmful in the long term?
The Time Is Now
No matter how disciplined a person is – giving into temptations happens to all of us from time to time. The decision to eat, buy, or spend often comes with a weighted decision: Do you experience immediate satisfaction now or do you resist temptation and delay your impulse?
Very often, instant gratification wins. After all, the now is now – and the future is uncertain.
Why Do You “Cave?”
When you’re deciding between delaying your impulse or feeling instant gratification right away, your brain justifies your impulse by reminding you that the future is not guaranteed like the present moment.
This decision to delay is often emotional in nature. It all comes down to willpower.
You make the choice many times each day to exercise willpower or to experience the excitement of instant gratification.
Whether you keep a cool head and opt to delay and exercise self-control, or throw caution to the wind and act on impulse depends on many factors, including your stress levels, your thought process, and your emotional state.1
From Theory To Practice
Here’s a familiar example:
You’re at your favorite store and there’s only one pair of the shoes you want in your size. You know you can get the same shoes on sale if you wait another week to buy them. Instant gratification wins. You buy the shoes – even though you know you’d save money by waiting.
While you can almost always return a purchase if you feel regret or change your mind, the same can’t be said when it comes to choices about your diet and health habits.
It’s important to find a balance between instant gratification and disciplined decision making. Too often, those impulsive decisions have lasting effects – and they’re sometimes difficult to reverse.
Is Instant Gratification Healthy?
Impulsiveness can be fun when you are taking a road trip or deciding to play the lottery. Too often, though, impulsiveness also comes with feelings of regret, shame, and anxiety – all signs of unhealthy living or decision making.2
When it comes to your health, it’s important to consider what you will need in the future as much as you consider what you might want or need in the present moment.
Planning For The Future
In moments of temptation to eat something sugary your brain can very vividly look back on your memories of other sugary foods you’ve eaten and how delicious they were. In contrast, you can choose to look forward into your future with the same vividness and see yourself reaching your weight loss goals.
That moment of forward-thinking and envisioning, called pre-experiencing in some medical studies, is what can help you resist that impulsive urge.
Instead of eating a cookie, your thoughts about your future health, and reaching your weight goals, win in the face of immediate satisfaction.3
In this example, fighting your impulse to satisfy your sweet tooth allows you to reach your health and weight management goals. And isn’t this what you truly want long-term anyway?
Can You Change Your Approach?
It’s time for some good news: Managing strong desires and rerouting your impulsive behavior is totally possible, and that shift can be beneficial for your long-term health and well-being. Changing habits, or developing willpower, can seem overwhelming, but it’s easy to accomplish when you start small.
Give Yourself Distance: Studies show that a desire is easier to resist when you have physical proximity in your favor. Keep candy and soda completely out of your house if your temptation is sugar, or choose the table farthest away from the buffet if you tend to overeat.4
Stay Busy: It’s easier to delay your urge for immediate satisfaction when you have something else to look at or do. Keeping yourself distracted in a healthy way – like a brisk walk, or completing a household chore – can help you ignore your temptation until it passes.5
No Bargaining: It’s easy to tell yourself lies to justify your immediate satisfaction – sabotaging a diet plan, picking up a cigarette, or spending above your means. To battle this slippery slope, keep visual reminders or written goals nearby, so you don’t discount the value of what you’re working towards.6
The Tortoise and The Hare
Shifting your impulsive behaviors is a tough thing to do. Immediate satisfaction can be…well…satisfying. Simply put, it takes a great deal of focus and commitment to keep your eyes on your long-term goals.
When considering instant gratification at the expense of your own health and well-being, however, the choice is clear. Keeping yourself on track with your diet and lifestyle goals, instead of giving in to cravings and impulsiveness, is the most reliable, steady way to maintain a lifetime of good health.
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