Games are designed to give you instant gratification, to give you feedback of your progress and that you are doing well. Over time your brain gets used to this so when you go to quit one of the issues you run into is that life doesn’t tend to give feedback so quickly.
In games you’re leveling up, you’re beating quests, you’re beating bosses and every time you do one of these things your brain gives you a dopamine release, which is the chemical in your brain designed to make you feel good.
And games are designed to make you experience as much dopamine as possible and what happens is when you go to quit you’re used to having these good emotions, instantly, especially because gaming is so accessible now. So anytime you wanted to feel good about yourself you could log on your game and get a dopamine hit.
But because this is happening through a game instead of through your life, it’s more of an artificial level of gratification, but, the dopamine you experience is real. So you feel good but that doesn’t necessarily mean it raises your self-esteem.
This has to do with the difference between instant gratification and delayed gratification. Gratification is the emotional response of pleasure to you fulfilling a goal or desire you have.
So when you go after gratification in a way that’s instant, you might feel good in an instant but it also disappears in the same timeframe. So anytime you want to feel this way you try and find a way to get a hit, and this behavior can lead to unhealthy addictions.
Whereas delayed gratification takes time, and because of that, the feel good emotions also last a long time too. The choice is always yours but there’s a lot of interesting research done in this area.
Over the last 40 years Stanford has been researching the affects of instant vs. delayed gratification and it all points to one direction: that one of the qualities in people that leads to success in every single area of your life comes down to your ability to delay gratification.
The research all started with Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment where he would put a kid in a room and give him one marshmallow, which he/she could eat right away, or if he waited (15 minutes) they would earn a second one.
Of course some kids had the marshmallow now and some waited, but what was most interesting about the study was that over the years they followed these kids and every single time they followed up, the kids who were willing to wait and delay gratification were significantly more successful than the ones who didn’t, including having:
- Higher SAT scores.
- Lower levels of substance abuse.
- Lower likelihood of obesity.
- Better response to stress.
- Better social skills, etc.
So if you care about being successful in any (or every) area of your life, which you do because you’re reading this right now, being able to delay gratification is something you want to start to develop.
What you want to know is that this is a muscle. This is a skill you can develop like any other skill. Two skills that will contribute to your ability to delay gratification are your skills in discipline and patience.
Here are two keys to focus on:
- Choose a new habit and make it so easy you can’t fail. And make sure you track it for consistency.
- Celebrate the small wins. Most of the time when we do things we say we’re going to do, we don’t actually recognize ourselves for it. And this is really important for positive encouragement.
Delayed gratification is a muscle like anything else, it’s a skill like anything else. Regardless of how good you are at it right now, you need to start from where you are and focus on moving forward.