Why is it that we get ‘tempted’ to do stuff that provides instant gratification whereas we procrastinate on doing stuff that would also provide gratification, perhaps at a higher level, but delayed or deferred? It is solely because our subconscious mind is wired to prioritize immediate gratification over something in the distant future. Our subconscious mind is also wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain (Freud’s ‘pleasure principle’).
The ability to go through some tough times now or to hold out now for a better reward later is an essential life skill. This is what is meant by delayed gratification. For example, to begin exercising now knowing that the rewards will take a few weeks or months before they become apparent; to stop smoking now, fully aware that they will improve your health and the state of your lungs in a few weeks; to avoid some reckless purchases now in order to save for a vacation in the future; to take on tasks that you don’t like doing, yet cognizant of the fact that it will help your career; to skip desserts now which you know will help you with your weight-management regime, are all examples of delayed gratification.
Image source: Pixabay
Yet, more often than not, we give in to temptation quite easily and procrastinate when it comes to undertaking tasks or actions that will inevitably lead to future benefit? Why? Because our mind prefers instant gratification.
The practice of delaying or postponing things until the very last minute or after their due date is known as procrastination. Procrastination is described by some academics as a type of self-regulation failure defined by the intentional deferring or delaying of tasks despite likely detrimental effects. No matter how methodical and dedicated you are, there's a good chance you've wasted time on unimportant activities like watching TV, social media, or shopping online when you should have been working on job or school-related tasks. It is essentially choosing what you ‘want to do’ or ‘like to do’ over what you ‘have to do’.
Procrastination is not considered a serious problem, which is the reason that most people succumb to it one time or the other. And yet, procrastination may have a significant influence on your job, your grades, and your life, whether you're putting off finishing a project for work, avoiding homework obligations, or ignoring domestic tasks.
You may have heard of the infamous ‘Marshmallow Experiment’? It was a study on delayed gratification led by psy-
chologist Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford. He put each youngster in a private room with just a single marshmallow on the table to test hundreds of young children. The researchers then made a deal with each child: If they held off on eating the marshmallow while they momentarily left the room, they would give them a second marshmallow. Nevertheless, there wouldn't be a second marshmallow if the kid ate the first one.
The results of this study brought home the fact as to just how difficult it is for people of all ages to defer gratification. Some kids gobbled up the first marshmallow right away. Some tried to exercise self-control but eventually gave up. Only a handful of kids were able to resist and receive the reward.
Over a 40-year period, researchers followed the Marshmallow Experiment subjects into adulthood. The kids who postponed their reward were much more successful in practically all aspects of life than the kids who gave in to temptation. They had greater social skills, were healthier, performed better on standardised tests, responded better to stress, and had less substance misuse problems. This illustration of delayed gratification showed how important it is to success in practically every area of life.
So how does one overcome procrastination? How do you trick your mind into accepting the fact that delayed gratification is as much a priority as instant gratification is? Procrastination has various causes and there are several ways to deal with it, as I have explained in my book, Breaking Free From the MAFA Syndrome. And yet, there is a magic cure that works every time for most of the common reasons one procrastinates – as long you follow a few ground rules.
What is this magic pill that works every time?
Stay tuned, ensure you have subscribed to this blog to receive regular updates and await part 2 of this article.