Thought Catalog

The Problem With Instant Gratification

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Oliver Schwendener

I’ve always been a relatively inactive member on Facebook, and updates from me are quite rare. So much so, that even if I post a picture, or if I post an entire album, most of my friends are first awed that I managed to accomplish this task, and then they are able to appreciate/dislike the picture/album.

A week ago I activated my Instagram account. Unsurprisingly, people pinged me wondering if I was feeling alright.

So, why did I suddenly get back on social media? Well, I was a little worried I was behind the times. And, also my work needed me to learn some marketing tools, and since almost everything is online now, it makes sense to go online to understand how things work.

Within a week though, I realized I was turning into the victim of a very common phenomenon. Instant gratification, of course!

So, while I know I shouldn’t care if my posts/pictures were getting likes or comments, sub-consciously I did care. Every time I logged into Instagram or Facebook, and saw that my posts had received more likes and comments, I felt a bit happy. Ideally, it shouldn’t matter. I shouldn’t be affected by something like this. So, I decided to delve deeper into this topic What is instant gratification? The easiest definition I found was this: “Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment”.

So, why did it take social media to make me realize I was guilty of this. I was guilty of this everyday:

1. Waiting impatiently for a webpage to load.
2. Waiting for an immediate reply to my text message.
3. Expecting someone to call me back immediately when they say they’ll do so.
4. Getting frustrated when my cab isn’t on time.
5. Starting a new diet plan, and expecting my weight to drop by a kg within a day.
6. Ordering groceries, and getting frustrated if they don’t qualify for express delivery.
7. Reading an article and scrolling impatiently to the end to see why this is even worth reading.

That’s when you know you want something immediately because you feel it’ll give you pleasure. And, when it doesn’t happen, you start getting anxious. Remember, that feeling when you see the blue ticks on your WatsApp text message, but you’re still not getting a reply. Or, when you signed up for something online, which promised “Instant Delivery”, and you didn’t get it immediately in your mailbox, and you frantically started refreshing the page?

Yup, you were a victim of instant gratification.

Digital marketers have capitalized on this concept further to make you go crazy for that instant hit of pleasure. They’ve used it in innovative ways: “Sign up now and get healthy recipes everyday.” “Sign up now, and be the first one to win a free trip to Hawaii.” “Lose weight in a week and get ready for summer. Limited time offer.” Using call to action phrases like “sign up”, “click” and inserting phrases signaling urgency such as “now”, “be the first” and “the clock is ticking” doesn’t allow you to think much before you sign up. But, before you know it, you start getting product advertisements, and suddenly you’re being targeted on every social media platform. Yeah, digital marketers really know how to find you once you provide your email address.

What’s wrong with instant gratification? If everyone is a victim of this, what’s wrong with this? If I’m a customer, I expect delivery on time, and I expect better service. Yes, in a business scenario it might be justified. You paid for something, you expect it on time.

Also, for marketers, it’s important to measure their likes and comments, because they’re trying to sell something at the end of the day. But why do you need to care about it? When you set out for a vacation last month, was the ultimate aim to make sure that your pictures look really good on social media? If you don’t get many likes on your pictures, does this mean your vacation wasn’t worth it? Do you see a beach and think, “Wow, this looks beautiful” or do you think, “Wow, this is Instagram-worthy.” That should give you a clue as to how much or how less you might be affected by instant gratification on social media.

Instant gratification is also fleeting in nature. So, it makes you happy right now, but not in the long run.

Will the number of likes on your marriage picture bring you long-term happiness? No, right. But, will your marriage bring you long-term happiness? Well, it should! Which is why you got married in the first place. The rush of happiness you get when you reach 1000 followers is fleeting in nature, and it propels you on a path of emotional highs and lows which ultimately doesn’t improve your emotional well-being in the long run. It also lowers your ability to pay attention for long periods of time and fuels self-obsession.

“I don’t think patience is something that any of us grow up with in a large dose. It’s a world of instant gratification.” – Tim Cope.

You also begin to start expecting this in other areas of life, which do require quite a bit of hard work. This refers to long-term career growth, making relationships work and achieving goals. Expecting instant gratification initially and not getting it can make you impatient and give up on your dreams.

We’ve seen our parents and grandparents struggle to achieve things in their life through years of hardship. We’re in danger of losing that will to apply yourself in hard work without expecting anything in return.

“Everyone wants instant gratification: you have to have everything your parents had right away.” – Jim Flaherty.

How can we deal with this? This is a tough question. I know some of my friends have gone off social media completely. I thought of that as an option, but I realized that social media is helpful as well, it helps me connect to people, it’s given me access to more information and it can make us more productive. And, we need to grow with times.

I still don’t think Facebook or Instagram is bad! Seeing beautiful pictures makes me happy. I just want to change my short-term mindset so that I can be more patient and make meaningful choices in life.

Following are some of the ways to start doing this straight away:
1. Concentrate on activities fully, instead of trying to multi-task. When you’re exercising or reading a book, put your phone away. If you need to keep looking at pings, you won’t be concentrating on what you’re doing.
2. Put something out there and try to forget about it. This can be a post, a photo or even your opinion on something. You don’t need to always respond immediately.
3. Try and meet people and have in-person connections. There’s no point being connected on social media all the time to a bunch of people, but not being able to call any one of them if you want to.
4. Don’t be logged in all the time. Try to limit log-ins to a few times a day.
5. Try to inculcate some patience in your everyday tasks. Expect that things do take time, that’s the normal way of life and always was. It’s all about being to strike a balance between investing time and emotional energy into what matters to you, as opposed to what doesn’t.

Once, you’re more aware of your true goals and realize that achieving those takes time, you’ll automatically learn to be more patient, and learn to wait for the things which matter. And now’s the time to apply this to my own life as well, as I must “practice what I preach.” TC mark

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