Most humans will agree that is preferable to experience pleasure than pain. In fact most of the advances in human history have occurred as a result of this preference. It is not possible to live a life where there is only pleasure. In fact many people believe that a life with no discomfort would be a bit boring. It is the ups and downs in life that keeps things interesting. It is also often the case that people will need to put up with a bit of discomfort now in order to experience pleasure later. Those individuals who try to avoid ever facing such discomfort can really struggle to find happiness in life. It can easily lead them into addiction and other maladaptive behaviors.
Delayed gratification (AKA deferred gratification) is the ability of people to wait for the good things in life. Those individuals who find it difficult to delay gratification will often find it intolerable to have to put off their enjoyment.
Delayed gratification is close related to impulse control. Those people who have an impulse disorder experience a failure to resist an impulsive act that may be harmful to themselves or other people. It is believed that many of those people who are unable to delay gratification may be dealing with poor impulse control. This means that they need to experience pleasure now no matter what the latter consequences. This may help to explain why people will be risk the pain of addiction for a momentary high.
The inability to delay gratification is considered to be one of the characteristics of the addictive personality. Other traits associated with those who tend to fall into addiction include:
* A feeling of alienation from the rest of society
* Antisocial tendencies
* Tendency to act impulsively
* Symptoms of depression
* Symptoms of anxiety
* Feelings of low self-esteem
* These people tend to feel highly insecure in relationships
* High degree of tolerance for deviance
* Non-conformity is admired
* Such people tend to believe that they have a high degree of stress in their life
* Tend to indulge in attention seeking behavior
There are good reasons for why people benefit from the ability to delay gratification such as:
* Those individuals who are unable to delay gratification will often end up with results that are less satisfactory than if they have waited.
* Many of the good things in life involve a bit of sacrifice in order to cash in on later rewards. For example, those who are enjoy good physical health will exercise regularly and eat sensibly.
* Those individuals who are unable to delay their gratification will be at risk of causing harm to other people. For example, the alcoholic mother who becomes intoxicated when she is meant to be taking care of her children.
* It is suggested that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything. Those individuals who are unwilling to delay gratification are unlikely to make such a sacrifice in time.
* The ability to defer gratification shows that the individual has a degree of self-control. Those who lack self control will tend to move from one disaster to the next.
* There can be a sweet pleasure associated with delaying enjoyment. It means that the individual has something to look forward to.
* When people put off their enjoyment to later they can use it is a type of reward to increase motivation. A good example of this would be the person trying to lose weight who has a day off from their diet where they are allowed to eat junk food.
* People do not want to be overly focused on the future but if people do not prepare for it they are likely to suffer. For instance, if people fail to sacrifice some of their money now for a pension scheme they may have no money to live on in old age.
There are dangers associated with the inability to delay gratification including:
* The individual will act impulsively in order to satisfy their momentary desires. Impulsive actions are more likely to produce bad results.
* The individual will have no real control over their life. They are like a dog chasing its tail.
* This person who is unable to delay gratification will actually be limiting their pleasure.
* The actions of this type of individual will cause misery for other people.
* Their physical and mental health is likely to suffer
* They will fail to plan and prepare adequately for the future
* This person will feel miserable when they are put in a position where they have to delay gratification
It may be particularly important for people who people who are recovering from an addiction to be able to delay gratification. This is because in order to get the most from sobriety the individual needs to approach life in a new way. Just giving up alcohol or drugs is usually not enough to ensure happiness and success in life. The individual will need to begin chipping away at the character flaws that help led them into substance abuse in the first place.
One of the personal characteristics that are likely to continue to cause problems in recovery is the inability to delay gratification. It is important that the individual overcomes this character flaw because:
* If people lack impulse control they will easily slip back into addiction. They may use the slightest hiccup in their recovery as justification for a relapse.
* In order to develop emotional sobriety they individual will need to learn how to deal with their uncomfortable feelings as well as their nice ones. They need to escape the tendency to run away from anything that is painful.
* In order to develop a degree of serenity in life the individual will need to learn how to face and overcome challenges.
* If people continue to put gratification first in their life it will mean that they are likely to fall into other forms of addictive behavior – this is usually referred to as addiction substitution.
It is possible for people to learn how to delay gratification. This is because their current inability to defer pleasure is usually something they have learnt and so it can be unlearnt. It is a challenge to overcome these negative habits but the rewards of doing so make the effort worth it. The individual can learn to delay gratification by:
* Practicing meditation so they can have a clearer picture of their own mental habits and impulses. Mindfulness meditation is particularly good for this, and the individual learns that they do not have to obey those thoughts that push for instant gratification.
* If people have clear goals that they really desire it will be easier for them to delay gratification. It will mean that they have a good reason for making sacrifices now.
* Mental visualizations of how good it will be to achieve a goal will encourage people to make the necessary sacrifices now.
* People should be wary of any claims of instant results. Most things that are worthwhile in life involve at least some initial sacrifice.
* It is important for people to learn how to appreciate the process of achieving things rather than just wanting to get to their goal as fast as possible. There can actually be a great deal of pleasure to be found in the process of making dreams a reality.
* It is a good idea to keep a journal. This will allow the individual to track their progress in their attempts to get better at delaying gratification.
* Once people begin to experience the benefits of deferring gratification it becomes easier to do – it eventually becomes a habit.
* Delaying gratification does not mean that people need to postpone their enjoyment of life. The ideal situation is for people to live in the moment but plant positive seeds for the future.