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“The pain of avoiding something important is tolerable compared to the regrets we may have later.” ~ Unknown
We are living in a world where distractions are just seconds away.
The moment we pick our phones in the morning, we are bombarded with tens and hundreds of notifications, all trying to feed us relatable and enjoyable content. We are living in times when, instead of making time for entertainment, we are making time for important works.
We buy the latest gadgets as soon as they are launched rather than saving for retirement or education. We follow a random get-rich-overnight scheme for quick success. We prefer flings over commitment. All of this for a short period of satisfaction until we face reality.
But quite contrary to what our mind says, it’s better not to have everything that we crave because those temporary pleasures can make our life chaotic. Delayed gratification can be painful in the short term, but it is an essential life skill. It helps us practice self-control.
So, how do we build this vital skill?
Here are six tips for developing delayed gratification:
1. Start with simple goals.
Keep things simple in the beginning. Try to resist urges for a short period, say five to 10 minutes. Then, once we achieve our goals, raise the time to lift our bar and practice for a more extended period. Say, holding the urge to shop for a couple of days or weeks or calling it a day after waiting for an extra five minutes.
2. Try “if-then” rules.
We are more likely to form a habit when we are rewarded for them. This is why if-then parameters are an efficient way to finish our tasks. If someone completes a job, then reward them with something. For instance, if I exercise for 20 minutes, I will allow myself to watch my favorite show.
3. Remove distractions.
We are just a click away from distractions. One tap to turn on the Wi-Fi, and we find ourselves bombarded with notifications. The tricky thing about these notifications is that they are very relevant to us, so we are easily tempted. It is wise to either turn off the internet or use the right productivity tools to avoid such situations.
The internet may not be a source of distractions for some, but their thoughts could be. They can feel very overwhelmed by the volume of thoughts they get when they sit down to work. If this is the case, we can journal and implement a couple of mindful habits into our daily routine. This relaxes our brains and helps us take control of ourselves.
4. Rest the mind.
Practicing delayed gratification requires a high amount of willpower, and it uses up most of our energy. So, if we jump from one task to another on our to-do list, we might end up zoning out more often and become inefficient. And as they say, “It’s better to sharpen your ax for four hours and then cut the trees rather than cutting the trees with a blunt ax for six hours.”
We should sprinkle activities that make us feel more energized and confident in our daily schedule. Some may like to paint to feel relaxed, while others may want to connect with nature. Figuring out what works best for us is key.
5. Gratitude journal.
Writing everyday musings and emotions may not seem like much, but how we respond to those musings and emotions alters our future from several aspects. So, it is essential that while journaling, we try to express our true emotions with a little bit of positivity. I like to write about things I am grateful for.
Perhaps, initially, we may feel blank when we sit down to journal, but all it takes is a small moment of self-reflection, and we’re good to go.
6. Remember the bigger picture.
It’s normal to feel hopeless at times, but we must never doubt ourselves. If we let ourselves indulge in doubtful thoughts, there is no coming back. We are more likely to quit once such thoughts invade our minds because who doesn’t wish to have the sweet fruit of success?
We need to constantly remind ourselves that though our decisions may seem painful in the moment, they will benefit us highly in the future.
Right off the bat, developing this skill may not be easy. It works by depriving our brain of all the instant pleasures fueling it to lose self-control. The process can be difficult and painful. This is why most people can’t keep practicing delayed gratification regularly.
It’s good to introspect how we want our future to look like every once in a while. To have a successful future, delayed gratification is an essential skill. The immediate gratification of buying new things, sex, or anger may ease our discomfort, but it wouldn’t bring out our best qualities, let alone help us to achieve long-term goals.
I want to resign by quoting one of my middle school teacher’s words, the gravity of which I did not realize until I grew up:
“In life, we should first analyze the consequences and then take action, not the other way round.”
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