Why Instant Gratification Is Dangerous

If you aim to be a self-published author or artist, or to enter any solo venture for that matter, it is important to understand the importance of managing expectations and the concept of reward and gratification. I spoke at length about managing expectations and dealing with demotivation in a previous post, and today I want to build on that by focusing more on the dangers of instant gratification, and teaching (even subconsciously) your brain to expect that. What is instant gratification? Well put simply gratification is that sense of happiness and elation you feel upon winning or reaching a goal or obtaining a desire, and by extension instant gratification is the immediate reward of that feeling. Put in the simplest of terms, expecting instant gratification is basically thinking that if you do something you should see positive results or get a reward for it. This thinking can apply almost anywhere, whether it’s in your job, your personal solo venture, your relationship with your partner or even just your belief structures, and it’s vital to understand the problems it can lead to.

When studying psychology I was taught that there is a danger in parents doting over their children by means of constant reward. By making a fuss over every little thing they do and offering a reward at constant intervals, it’s like hotwiring their brains to expect reward for doing very little. While it’s easy to see how this may work on a child, it actually carries over to adults all the same. What it leads to in later life, which is something I myself have dealt with before, is having a problem investing for the long-term and thus looking for shortcuts, or generally just expecting results to happen far sooner than they actually should or realistically will. For someone who is used to instant gratification, the absence of it can result in prematurely giving up, getting demotivated or looking somewhere else for reward, and it’s a troublesome attitude.

As many of us know, challenges and rewards in life take months or even years to overcome and achieve. Matriculation, a degree, a promotion, becoming well-off or even wealthy, seeing your hard work finally pay off in a solo venture – all of these are the real rewards of the long-term. Investment, effort, time and work put in. But if you’ve grown up with, or you’re used to, instant reward, then working hard towards that eventual reward is much more difficult. It’s one thing to understand these dangers though, but how does one actually become hotwired to instant gratification, and thus susceptible to it? Of course there are many ways, one of which I covered up above, but another would be the absence or fear of failure. In life you can achieve your goals despite small or even at times large failures. Failure is in many ways a natural part of growing, learning and strengthening. But if you haven’t failed, or if your failures have been brushed aside without you having to face the consequences of them, then it can worsen expectations of instant gratification.

I’ve come to realise, repeatedly, that in life you need to constantly manage and adjust your expectations. A reward has true meaning when effort, investment, commitment and time has been put in to achieving it. Here’s an example. Let’s say my first book, The Sorrow, had become an overnight success and a sensation. That would have been truly amazing, wouldn’t it? I would have been so ecstatic words wouldn’t have been able to convey the elation. However let’s say I then hurry along with my second book and publish it, but it sells a tiny amount of copies and does nothing to excite the world. I probably would have been absolutely crushed, totally confused and at a loss as to how history didn’t repeat itself. Do you see what I’m getting at? Sure the flaw in this example is that writing a book requires an enormous amount of effort, time and investment to begin with, but this shouldn’t guarantee a pay off. You shouldn’t expect one. That is the danger. You are working towards gratification, reward and pay off, but it is important to understand that it is the end goal, not the expected outcome. Sometimes hard work doesn’t actually pay off, and we need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for that reality, otherwise it can take a lot out of you.

I’m currently writing my second book, and my goal is always to use my years ahead to build a name and reader base and identity for myself. I don’t expect any success. Sure I saw some stars in the clouds in the process of writing my first book, but that’s to be expected. It’s natural excitement. The important part was, when reality hit, to bounce back and adjust expectations. Of course some people just get that stroke of luck and reach their goals, but behind every one of those stories you will hear of how the person did not give up, kept committed and kept putting the effort in to achieve the goal. Your success can come when you least expect it, or it may not come. My only hope, for myself, is that I’ll have the strength to be realistic regardless of the outcome, and at least know that I did not expect instant gratification, but did everything possible to achieve my goals. If I merely expected reward, I’ll probably be constantly crushed again and again when it doesn’t work out, as opposed to putting my head down and going again.

When is the right time to quit? Well, that depends on you, your personality and your adventure. But the takeaway point from this is to be aware of the dangers of instant gratification, and to adjust your expectations accordingly so that you don’t expect reward, but understand that you have to work to earn it. Even then, it may not even happen. That’s just life. A reward is best when it is truly earned, and is backed by the right kind of commitment to the cause. I’m not exactly a successful person to be giving you this advice, but I interact and work with hard-working and committed people on a daily basis who are passionate and don’t just expect rewards to be handed out to them, and it’s by far a much healthier and more productive environment than the one created by the people who gave up easily or expected life to do them favours.

A reward must be earned, and not expected.

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