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Practicing Delayed Gratification


Delay of Gratification is defined by encyclopedia Brittanica as the act of resisting an impulse to take an immediately available reward in the hope of obtaining a more-valued reward in the future. The ability to delay gratification is essential to self-regulation, or self-control.

Bill and I have been discussing this idea quite a bit lately.  How our culture has become a culture of immediate gratification.  If we want something, we buy it.  Everything is available at the tip of our fingers.  When birthdays or the holidays come around and I am asking what people would like, no one needs anything, they just want more things or more stuff.  Some don't even have anything they want because they wait for nothing.  We purchase to excess.  We cannot fit our stuff in our homes and they take over our garages.  One of the biggest items looked for in new homes in storage.

However, this goes well beyond material possessions.  If we want something specific to eat, we just go buy it, or even better, have it delivered to us.  We purchase coffee out every single day.  We have our groceries delivered.  We get what we want, when we want it.  We do not work to develop patience or hone the skill of delaying intentionally, we are like that little girl in Willy Wonka, "I want it now!"  Don't we want to teach out kids the skills of grocery shopping, making coffee at home, and cooking?  Even more so, don't we want those skills for ourselves?

I found this article on the concept of delayed gratification really interesting, and this is a direct quote... 

"According to Freud, the id rules the behavior of infants and children by only satisfying the pleasure principle; there is no thinking ahead for the greater purpose. Children seek immediate gratification, aiming to satisfy cravings such as hunger and thirst, and seeking whatever they want in the moment to ease their discomfort.  Pleasure is central to our survival. We need things like food, water, and sex in order to survive and pass our genetic material on to the next generation. However, as we get older and mature, we must learn to tolerate the discomfort of delayed gratification if we have a greater purpose or goal in mind. Unlike infants and young children, adults are characterized by their ability to delay gratification and tolerate hard work, discipline, and occasional unpleasantness in order to fulfill responsibilities and achieve goals. Mature adults don’t expect others to meet their needs. They understand and accept that they won’t always be gratified."

I would encourage you to read the whole article, but what this portion is saying really stood out to me.  The adult American population has started approaching our world as though we are children.  We seek immediate gratification and have such a disdain if we cannot immediately have what we want, even if we are ultimately the cause of our own discomfort.  If you don't save up, you can't buy that car you need or want, however you have a pity party because other people get to have that car so you should too... do you see what I am saying?!

Over the last few years I have been practicing delayed gratification, and yes, I believe it is a skill you can develop.  I have kept a list on my phone of "Things I Want" and I add to it when I see something I would like to purchase, but don't need.  Could be an article of clothing or a book or an art supply or anything really.  You want to know what has been the most eye opening, when I go to add something new to the list, I typically delete an item  from it as well because I no longer want them or someone has gifted them to me.  Over time I add things, then take them away, and realize that everything we want is temporary, much like fleeting pleasure.  Just because you want it, does NOT mean it will bring you joy upon arrival.  No, there will be something else immediately on your want list.  Style and preferences will change, and what we want today will not be what we want in a week or a month from now.

So where do we go from here?  I would encourage you to start a list of your own of things you want and not purchase anything you don't absolutely need for a pre-determined amount of time.  It's strange, but it will relieve some pressure from you and you will no longer feel like you have to keep up.  Once you are able to go a few months, you will realize you do not miss all the new things and the constant need for new storage solutions and purging to make space.  What you miss is the adrenaline your body would get from the purchase.  Re-train your brain and you will get that same adrenaline from NOT making an unnecessary purchase.  I would also encourage you to borrow things from your community.  If someone you know owns something, maybe you can use it rather than buying it for yourself?

In fact, the next step, in my opinion, is starting to recognize what you are not using in your home/life and start getting rid of things.  Which, to some, may seem counter intuitive, but we should not be holding onto our stuff with both hands and a tight grip!  It is just stuff.  Invest in what matters.  Spend time with people and invest all that money you are saving back into your relationships in creative ways.

All right, getting off my soap box, but I hope this encourages someone.  This journey has brought me to the coolest place of freedom!  Release the pressure of society and remember our kids are watching everything we do, if we do not practice this, they will not learn it.  That has been an additional motivator for me.

Have a lovely weekend friends!


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