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Getting instant gratification to work for you

When you aren't enjoying something, it is quite common to tell yourself or have others tell you about delayed gratification. The idea of delayed gratification is that you put in the hard work and do things that you don't particularly enjoy right now, but will be beneficial to you in the long run. Instant gratification, on the other hand, is to do things that make you happy right away.

For example, eating an extra piece of cheesecake is instant gratification. You enjoy the dessert and are happy that you had it. Whereas, eating salad instead may not be as enticing right now, but will result in better health down the road.

There are many such examples. Sleeping for an extra hour or going to the gym for a workout. Working on your novel or watching another re-run of Friends on television. Working on solving that big problem at work or responding to all those emails or attending meetings.

We all understand how delayed gratification works. Yet, we often act with instant gratification in mind. This is why having a heavy tax on cigarettes is more effective in getting teenagers to reduce smoking than educating them about the long term negative effects of smoking. They understand the delayed gratification of not smoking, yet they go for the instant gratification of smoking.

The reason why we do this is simple. We have to motivate ourselves to do what we do. When the motivation is a benefit that we will realise months or years down the line, that isn't enough to overcome all those things that keep cropping up in our faces that guarantee instant gratification.

So, we yield to instant gratification very often. And then we remind ourselves of the long term negatives and get back our motivation. We keep going through this loop, and hence push the long term benefit farther and farther away from reach.

Instead of fighting it, we can get instant gratification to work for us. Here's how:

The best way to do this is to enjoy the act. Like the people that run for the runner's high or the ones that write because they like falling into the world of their words. But it is very hard to do this when you're starting off something. This usually only works when you have already been doing something for a while and are good or getting better at it.

So, the next best option is to employ gamification. This has worked for me so well. If you run, you try to beat your previous record each time you run, in terms of distance or pace. If you write, you try to beat your previous record of the number of words you wrote in a day. You are motivated because you are competing with yourself. This is the reason you keep playing some games, especially old arcade games like Tetris and Galaga. You want to beat your previous high score.

The third option is to have fun by combining things. If you hate going to the gym but like hanging out with a friend, go to the gym with a friend. If you hate meetings, but love cake, bring cake to every meeting. If you hate running, but enjoy going to the park, run in the park. Do this until you get into the habit of enjoying what you used to hate.

The final option is to bribe yourself. This isn't something I recommend, but it works. Every time you complete something you don't enjoy doing, reward yourself with something you like. Again, do this until you start enjoying what you started on.

Success is twenty percent delayed gratification, and eighty percent finding productive sources of instant gratification.

You don't have to avoid instant gratification all the time. You can get it to work for you instead.

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