Waging The War Against Instant Gratification
Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Alternative title: Elliott tells you how to live your life.
One of the biggest struggles that I have identified in my adult life is the constant battle against instant gratification. There's a famous quote from the late Anthony Bourdain, and it goes like this: “I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.” I don't think I truly understood the meaning of that statement when I first read it; but it's been beginning to make more sense in recent years. A big problem that we are experiencing as a society at the moment is how smartphones, and the internet, are rewiring our brains and altering our attitudes. The world is now at our fingertips - with literally a couple of taps, we could order a taxi to take us somewhere. We could order a takeaway. We could message an old friend who resides on the other side of the world. These are all amazing technical achievements, and we take them for granted and almost ignore. What we also ignore, however, is how this world of instant-access is shortening our attention spans, and seemingly limiting our ability to focus on the long term. For example, I will occasionally find myself reaching for my phone during a film that I am enjoying. It's not that I'm bored per se, it's just that I am craving stimulation, and probably dopamine, from my social feed. Now, this isn't a particularly insidious example - but it's little things like this that people do without even noticing that are destroying our ability to focus, and is causing us to want everything now.
Amazon Prime one-day deliveries. Entire boxsets being instantly available on demand. Swiping right for a potential date or hookup. These are all examples where the user is given instant gratification, or as close as possible to instant gratification. We are being conditioned to desire everything now, without hassle, without waiting, and without putting any effort in. Now, please don't think that I'm preaching all of this to you from my ivory tower; far from it. I'm absolutely guilty of everything you just read, hence why I'm writing it. I'm trying to make small, positive changes day by day in order to free myself from the shackles of short-term cravings and instant gratification, and focus more on productivity and making progress (specific progression goals to be confirmed). A few of the ideas I'm trying to abide by are as follows - absolutely feel free to join me on these:
If it takes less than five minutes, do it now. This is a big one. Little, simple tasks that don't take long to do can easily mount up and become a daunting mission, but if you tackle them one at a time, when you have the time, you'll much more likely stay on top of them all. This will hopefully give you more time to do what you want to do, and it's another thing off your mind.
Set yourself goals, and tell people about them. I don't know if this is just me, but I am absolutely awful at holding myself accountable for things that only affect me. I hate knowing I've let someone else down or upset someone, but if it's only affecting me, you can bet that I'll give up halfway through or not follow through on a mental promise I'd made to myself. What I've discovered works well for me is having other people hold me accountable. For example - I've tried to make it very clear to people that my blog entries are released weekly, on a Wednesday. Since doing so, I've (so far) not missed a week. It's a small victory, but a victory that I am absolutely counting. I suppose in a way this blog is a way for me to hold myself accountable for promises I'm making as I'm documenting them, which makes them somehow more 'real' in my head.
Break big things down into small, manageable chunks.
All the time, we witness amazing things that people have done - whether it be art, music, a talent of theirs - but we are often only exposed the finished product. We don't see the hours and hours of practice, refinement and stress that go into becoming skilled at something. We often simply marvel at the finished product, and simply think; "Wow, I'd never be able to do that." And while you may well be right, you're comparing your current self to a master of their art. If you've got the yearning to learn something new or try a new hobby, take baby steps. Every step you take is a step further than you were before!
Use a bloody calendar! (Credit to Jess and Erica for inspiring me to do this one)
Your phone has a calendar app on it. Use it. And if it doesn't for some reason, buy a wall calendar. I used to be absolutely awful for double booking myself on weekends and evenings, much to the frustration of both myself, and friends I was letting down. I'm now trying to keep much more on top of my schedule by taking the time to log upcoming events and activities in my calendar, and I have to say I'm really liking it. In addition to this, I'm trying to set aside small pockets of time in my calendar, reserved for 'productive' things such as running, writing and reading.
And finally - Reward Yourself. Taking a break is important. I'm not saying that you should never check your phone, or never take a night off to enjoy yourself. Downtime is critical, and sometimes it can be nice to receive a bit of a buzz through instant gratification. I think it's just important to note that there is a difference between the feeling of satisfaction that comes from it; and happiness.
Progress, in whatever form it may take, is made by keeping a watchful eye on the horizon, and making your way towards it. If you only ever concern yourself with your immediate here and now, you rarely find yourself making headway.