Imagine waking up, surfing the Internet for hours before actually beginning your day. Or, having an important deadline due in an hour but still scrolling through TikTok in guilt. If such occurrences sound familiar, this article is for you.
According to Mark Manson and Tony Crabbe in two of their best selling books – “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” and “How to thrive in a world of too much”, we are living in a world full of instantaneity. When we need something, we get it right away. Hungry? The only thing you need to do is to open the fridge. Need information? Search on the internet and voila, everything you seek is there in one click. Since our needs can be satisfied in a blink of an eye, we might be lured by the instant benefits, without thinking too much about (or trying to deny in our heads) the reality of consequences for our actions.
The “Marshmallow Experiment” by Stanford professor Walter Mischel in 1960 showed how delayed gratification affected human beings, especially in the long run. Children were put into separate rooms and guaranteed a second bite of the marshmallow in front of their eyes if they could resist eating them while the researchers were away. Researchers have followed participants from the experiment since then and realized that those who could hold the temptation possessed stronger social skills, were healthier, coped with stress better and even performed higher on standardized examinations.
The experiment really highlighted the advantages of delaying an instant satisfying moment for a greater and more worthwhile benefit in the future. Delayed gratification, as explained by researchers, refers to people’s readiness to forgo an immediate reward in exchange for future rewards, known as shallow delay discounting, and is linked to their health, prosperity, and happiness. (Cheng et al, 2012). In simpler terms, delayed gratification could be seen as postponing some instant dopamine sources such as binge eating or binge watching to stay focused on a more important task – revision for the upcoming exam, for instance.
But why does it matter to you, to me, to us? As I mentioned, we now live in a world whereby our needs could be pleased quickly. We tend to respond to those ‘instant’ urges such as unhealthy-food cravings or Instagram notifications immediately without knowing that it would create a bad habit in our brain and guide our daily behaviors, which eventually ruin our long-term goals (or bigger tasks that we need to accomplish at that moment).
Therefore, it is essential for us young adults to practice delayed gratification. By knowing what to prioritize, we truly focus on things that matter in our life in the long run. For example, instead of replying to all those messages for 1-2 hours in the morning, we can use that time to learn a few new words or practice a quick exercise. Ten words per day might not make that much changes but ten words times 365 days would make a huge difference. After the one-year progress, we can probably converse in that language to a certain extent.
So now, what to do?
- Learn to prioritize things that add long-term values to your life instead of constantly responding to external factors (messages, notifications,..).
- Break your goals into smaller steps. For example, instead of “reading a book”, try putting it on your to-do list as “opening the first chapter” “reading two lines”. A simple achievable goal is actually effective in dealing with procrastination.
- Finally, consistency is key. Good things take time. We can not practice for only a few days then see the results. Remember, ‘delayed gratification’ is not ‘instant gratification’. Sometimes, it might be much easier to satisfy yourselves with immediate dopamine instead of waiting for any upcoming benefits. My final words is that the choice is yours. If you repeatedly do the same thing, you couldn’t expect a different result so choose wisely. Do something that your future self won’t regret.
Good luck to all of us out there seeking a better version of ourselves!
Author: Ellie Duong Dao
Editor: Phoebe Elliott
Visuals by: Isabella Restrepo