Instant Gratification or Long Term Satisfaction

instant gratification

How are you doing in the tug-of-war between working toward your long term goals and the temptation of instant gratification? It is amazing how so many areas of life are affected by the gravitational pull of these two forces.

Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to stick to a long term success plan and so easy to be derailed by things that only provide momentary pleasure? Why is it so challenging to go to the gym and watch your diet, and so easy to eat junk food and skip the exercise routine. Why would any of us choose to spend hours on social media sites rather than do the work that pays the bills?

What’s the real draw of instant gratification?

I am sure you realize that the vast majority of advertising is designed to trigger impulse buying. But do you know what impulse buying and instant gratification have in common? They both appeal to our emotions in a way that overrides our logic. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that impulse buying is one of the most common sources of instant gratification.

In contrast, long term goals usually involve a logical decision followed by a commitment along with a certain amount of discipline. We may be emotionally attached to the intended outcome, but that’s not the same kind of emotional impulse that feeds an instant gratification craving.

What is the draw of long term satisfaction?

The kind of satisfaction that comes from pursuing our long term goals is one of substance. Anything that requires consistent effort over a long period of time is bound to leave us with a deeper sense of accomplishment. Unlike instant gratification, this is the category where we work to make our dreams become reality.

Reasonableness dictates that truly significant achievements require significant effort and time to be realized. There is usually nothing instantaneous about it. In fact, this approach is often referred to as deferred gratification. It involves greater gratification, but we have to be willing to wait for it.

Is there room for both?

That’s really what we want, isn’t it? We want to reach for our dreams and the things that bring long term satisfaction, while having our days accented with some instant gratification. So, the question is, can we have both or will one always pull against the other?

Of course we can have both, but some management is required so that we maintain a healthy state of balance and don’t end up abandoning our long term goals in favor of the quick fix. Here are a few pointers to make sure that doesn’t happen.

3 ways to balance instant gratification with long term satisfaction

1. Use the reward system. We all like to be rewarded for our efforts and we naturally work harder when there is a reward in the near future. An example of this approach might be when we are watching our diet and trying to get in shape. The longer we go without those forbidden foods, the stronger our cravings become.

The solution is to reward yourself with a treat meal after a week of effort. This approach allows you to satisfy your craving so you won’t feel deprived. And, you will give yourself something to look forward to during the week. It’s a win-win situation as long as you control the frequency of those instant gratification treat meals.

2. Punctuate long term goals with regular celebration points. Identify milestones along the path of your long term goals and use them as opportunities to celebrate what you’ve accomplished up to that point. If you are building a business, you could choose to celebrate every time your income goes up by $100 or $200 per month.

You get to decide what constitutes celebration. The important thing is that it gives you a sense of gratification for your hard work. That way you feel rewarded for sticking to the plan and you have some motivation to keep making progress. This same reward system would apply to growing your blog or website traffic. Every time your traffic or RSS subscriber count increases by a certain amount, celebrate.

3. Give yourself daily approval and acknowledgment. One of the greatest sources of gratification is approval and acknowledgment. You don’t need to look elsewhere for this kind of gratification. All you need to do is take the time to commend yourself for what you’ve accomplished. Withholding this kind of approval can cause you to seek it from outside sources like comfort foods or mindless time wasting activities.

I suggest you make time to do this at the end of every day. It’s not a big deal, but it does make a big difference in your level of gratification. Simply review your day and give yourself your personal thumbs up for a job well done.

Instant gratification and long term satisfaction

With a little planning you can have them both and maintain a healthy sense of balance. If some form of instant gratification is throwing your life out of balance, apply one of these three strategies to help restore your equilibrium.

How do you seek instant gratification?
Has it ever prevented you from reaching your long term goals?
The lines are open!

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  1. Sandra August 5, 2011 Reply

    I’m an impulsive person, so this is precisely the type of advice that is beneficial for me. I like the idea daily acknowledgment and approval in particular. I’ll try that one on for size!

    • Jonathan August 5, 2011 Reply

      Hi Sandra, I think impulsive plays a vital role is keeping things interesting and spontaneous, but left unchecked it can become a real roadblock to the accomplishment of long term goals.

  2. Miri Chandler August 5, 2011 Reply

    This was exactly what I needed for my “couch potato to marathon” goal. Thank you!

    • Jonathan August 5, 2011 Reply

      Hi Miri, glad you found it helpful, thanks for being here!

  3. David Stevens August 5, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    Well said. I like some “instant gratification”. I don’t want to give that up because there’s no guarantee that I will be talking with you tomorrow. However that said, working toward longer term satisfactions is very rewarding & essential because I might still be here “tomorrow” and I will need to cash in. Keep building your “Bank” step by step, day by day smelling the roses along the way. Thank you again Jonathan. Have a great weekend.
    be good to yourself

    • Jonathan August 12, 2011 Reply

      Thanks David, as always, balance is the key!

  4. AJ Mida August 5, 2011 Reply

    Awesome advice Jonathan! I love the reward system. I gained 40 pounds over a years time and the excuse I am giving is I was traveling to much :). But really as you know excuses are no good and won’t give you the results you want so I try not to make them. Anyways I am very much into fitness and use “treat meals” once a week. It makes the meal sooooo much better and you really do appreciate it more. I have since turned the fat into muscle and am back in my routine of working out. It’s a true testimony of the reward system does work!

    Great advice. Great blog. Thank you!

    • Jonathan August 12, 2011 Reply

      Greetings AJ, I follow a similar program. Congratulations on reclaiming control over your life. Isn’t it amazing how far off course excuses can take us?

  5. marc August 5, 2011 Reply

    Great insight! We often see the advantages of both instant gratification – which nobody wants to miss – and longtime satisfaction – which everyone love to have as well.

    It is the first time I learn about a way to balance both.

    Still, there is need for being able to keep up the self-discipline for a longer time. Longtime satisfaction is often measured in 3/6 months after which a review of the longtime plans are needed. For me that always a difficult moment.

    Thanks for sharing these idea’s!

    • Jonathan August 12, 2011 Reply

      Hi Mark, just think of the review of your long term plans as checking your road map to see if your course needs a little adjustment. Life is always changing so it is only natural that some adaptation would be part of our journey.

  6. Evan August 6, 2011 Reply

    I’d add a couple of things.
    It is easier if the activity is pleasurable or rewarding in itself. Getting a little fitter can feel a little better. Getting fitter can be done in ways we enjoy – dancing or something rather than stuff we don’t enjoy (for me gym).
    It can mean rescheduling – finding a specific regular time to do a new activity really helps me.

    • Jonathan August 12, 2011 Reply

      Good points Evan, the more we enjoy an activity the easier it is (mentally) to work it into our schedule.

  7. Riley August 6, 2011 Reply

    Hey Jonathan,
    I win some and lose some but I think the ratio is finally turning in favor of having the discipline necessary for long term results. I know I will never achieve perfection in this area.

    • Jonathan August 12, 2011 Reply

      Welcome to human race Riley, perfection is just an ideal. It gives us direction, but nobody accomplishes perfection in any aspect of life. Embrace progress and forget about the concept of perfection.

  8. Ken Wert August 6, 2011 Reply

    Well said, Jonathan!

    You present some great insight into helping balance instant gratification with the delayed gratification of pursuing long-term goals!

    Here’s another thought: As we mature and grow and overcome character flaws, and continue becoming a better, more moral and decent person, the conflict between the two diminishes.

    Here’s what I mean: As I reeducate my palate, the immediately gratifying cheesecake loses its pull. It becomes less gratifying to me. Then the immediate gratification of an apple or a handful of almonds no longer conflicts with my long-term goal of health and longevity.

    Or as I rein in my sexual appetite and focus my desire on my wife, learning to love modesty over the titillation of sexual fantasy, the pull of explicit internet images will naturally lessen their grip and will not be the temptation they would be for a less self-disciplined person.

    Of course, I’m in no way claiming to be immune to less noble indulgences of immediate gratification, but the principle still holds water.

    Thanks for the important insights and help you provide us all with the ongoing struggle to balance the immediate with the long-term!

  9. Jonathan August 12, 2011 Reply

    Extremely well said Ken. The maturity thing only works for those who are actually working to “overcome character flaws, and continue becoming a better, more moral and decent person.” When that is the case, the conflict between the two really does diminish over time as the process of personal growth continues.

  10. Alison Smela January 19, 2013 Reply

    Instant gratification never provided me with foundational peace. When my life started falling apart I realized how much I was relying on the short-term fix without regard to the long term ramifications. I’ve come to appreciate the benefit of thinking something “all the way through” before deciding the best course of action. I’ve learned (often the hard way) that a quick fix might fulfill a need now yet cause me to feel quite needy soon after.

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