Delayed Gratification, Part 1

Instant gratification is natural, just not always helpful.

 

To explain, consider for a moment the wolf or deer. Whatever that animal needs right that moment helps that animal survive or create the next generation. The biological imperatives are the only goals wild animals have. So gratifying those needs as quickly as possible makes perfect evolutionary sense. The Wolf is hungry. The Wolf looks for food. The Wolf is tired. It sleeps. The deer  smells or sees movement that might be the wolf. The deer runs the other way. Simple needs for simple goals mean instant gratification is the best possible result, and nothing else matters.

 

However, we’ve changed our environment so much by adding self-awareness, society, and civilization. Because of these dramatic changes, instant gratification is not always what we need.

 

For example, I might watch TV because it’s fun. Instant gratification, yay! But I really need to write or grade papers. Those activities are much more important to reach my goals, but the gratification is delayed. It’s tough for delayed rewards to compete with instant. The rewards are real, just not right that moment. I don’t think our wiring has caught up the changes. I know it’s more important to reach my goals than to just laze around. I even know that if I don’t get some grading or writing done then next month, I might not have a job. The month after that I might not be able to pay the electric bill or the rent. After that I won’t have any electricity to power the TV or a shelter to sit in. It’s the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. Arghh.

 

But not only are the penalties for only seeking instant gratification bad, the delayed rewards are at least as satisfying. With teaching, I help students succeed. It’s a really good feeling when they do, but it takes time. That’s also true with pursuing my dream of writing. The success doesn’t happen instantly, but each small thing feels great. Interesting side note: things could already be in motion that will lead my success, but I just don’t know that they will work yet.

 

So delayed gratification reinforces beneficial actions with enjoyment and satisfaction, just not right away. Part of maturity and managing projects is to be able to look beyond the next moment. To plan ahead, to see ahead, and to work now for the future. Next time, a list of actions that help. For now, be patient with yourself. It’s natural to want instant gratification, and sometimes okay. The steady effort when the rewards aren’t as fast takes more practice for everyone.

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