What is instant gratification and why is it a problem? Continue reading or skip ahead with the table of contents.
Table of Contents
Instant gratification has a number of definitions, but I prefer the one from entrepeneur.com:
Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay.
In today’s world, we’re obsessed with constantly needing stimulation.
Whether it comes from social media, watching Netflix or just playing video games. They’re all part of the same problem.
If you think about it, this is the first time in history we’ve had instant access to dopamine delivery systems as potent as our smartphones. In the past, you had to put in a lot more work before you got your reward.
People were bored, and out of this boredom grew creativity and passion and hard work. Now it’s so easy for people to escape boredom whenever they want that it has completely changed the way we operate.
Gone are the days of searching for solutions. Everything we need is right there in our pockets.
Social connection? Check.
The answer to every question? Check.
Have food brought to our door? Check.
Even something as basic and primal as sex can be fulfilled to some extent in the form of an endless wealth of pornography.
By the way, if you’d like to listen to the podcast episode for this article while you read, you’re in luck. Use this handy player to keep reading uninterrupted:
Why Is Instant Gratification a Problem?
There’re a number of issues that arise as a result of prioritising instant over delayed gratification – we’ll get into delayed later on – but we’ll try to cover the main ones.
Problem #1: Decreased Attention Span
I don’t know about you but this is something I’ve noticed in myself ever since smartphones became popular a decade ago. Even something as basic as reading a short article or watching a 10-second ad has become much more difficult.
As a society we’ve trained ourselves to want everything instantly, and anything that challenges that causes problems.
You see it all the time with YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. If you scroll through your feed and a video doesn’t capture your attention within the first 5 seconds, you’re not going to pay it any notice.
When a short ad pops up in the middle of a Facebook video, my first instinct is to close it. I’d rather miss the rest of the video than watch an advert, no matter how short it is.
It’s not just the fault of smartphones, however. My years of gaming have definitely played a part.
The barrier to entry is very low in video games. You can pick one up and within hours you’ve got a pretty good grasp of how it works.
You’ve been trained to become an expert in something with as little work as possible. When in reality, as we know, it takes discipline and hard work to become adept at a skill.
Problem #2: Lack of Focus
This ties into what I mentioned earlier. When you’ve been accustomed to getting big results with minimal exertion, focusing on a new skill becomes much more difficult.
When people quit gaming, we recommend they take up new hobbies to fill the time. However, almost 100% of them struggle to focus on these hobbies for long.
The fact of the matter is, your brain hates being a beginner. It’s so hard starting from square one.
When you try to focus intently on a hobby or skill, and you don’t get anything in return, your brain is going to start screaming at you.
Just go back to gaming. You’re good at that. What was the point in quitting in the first place…
– your brain, probably
Problem #3: Losing Interest In Your Passions
Within the space of 1 year at university, I’d gone from a musician playing festivals and recording an album to not touching my guitar for 3 years.
I was a passionate photographer, and I didn’t pick up my camera for over 2 years.
You might be seeing a common theme running through these problems – your brain.
Everything you do is controlled by your brain, and if your brain finds gaming more interesting than your hobbies it’s going to prioritise that.
From its perspective, why wouldn’t it? It doesn’t care about the mental and physical toll of spending your waking hours devoted to gaming. Your brain isn’t interested in learning a language or playing an instrument. The thrill of earning achievements on a video game and being able to play a new game is exactly the same to your brain.
However, the difference is that one of them requires much more effort. Naturally, then, it’s going to choose the easiest path.
As a result, your old passions become pointless. Gaming fulfills every need and more. Why should it diverge from something so perfect?
How to Break-Free from Instant Gratification
If you’ve never done anything like it before, going from 0 to 100 is near impossible.
It takes a long time for your brain to reset itself and function at a normal level of pleasure and to seek reward in a healthy way.
Something we stress a lot at Game Quitters is that without the proper awareness you won’t be able to achieve long-term success.
I want you to do something for me.
The next time you feel the urge to get some instant gratification from your phone or computer, try to catch yourself and take a few moments to think about how you’re feeling.
Why exactly are you trying to escape from?
Are you bored? Did you get a notification? Worried you’re going to miss out on something important?
Once you can train yourself to become more aware, you can start working out why you can’t resist that quick fix.
Then it’s just a matter of finding new activities to fulfil those same needs.
After you do this, you’ve made it through the simple part.
The next problem is learning how to build the discipline to see you through.
How to Be More Disciplined
It’s all well and good choosing some activities. However, when you go to take them up you are going to be bored out of your skin.
You’re not going to want to do any of them to start with. It really is going to suck.
If you’re doing the 90-day gaming detox, you really need to push yourself to pursue these activities with the same passion and determination that you put into gaming. The same focus. The same mindset of constantly challenging yourself, growing, and finding new avenues and opportunities to learn.
Related: How to Develop a Growth Mindset
The harsh truth, when discipline is concerned, is that it’s all on you.
No one else can do it for you. You can’t take a magic discipline pill and make everything normal.
Discipline is something you either are or you aren’t.
I’d recommend listening to Jocko Willink’s podcast for more on this. The idea that something is 1 or 0. There’s no in-between.
However, let’s see what you can do in the meantime until you develop an iron mind like Jocko.
How to Put Your Phone
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make this journey a little easier.
I’d recommend taking a break from social media. Just make a post saying you’re taking 30 days off, and then delete all the apps on your phone.
It’s as simple as that.
You’re not going to miss much while you’re gone, and you can still have people get in touch with you via WhatsApp.
Once you’ve done that, you should put a blocker on your phone and laptop. My personal favourite is Block Site on Chrome, as it syncs to your mobile.
Block every app that could make you want to open a tab and waste your entire evening.
In my case, these apps/websites were:
I now use a number of these for business, but during that initial detox period while you wait for your brain to reset, getting rid of all distractions is key.
How to Create SMART Goals
You don’t have to think too big to start with. As long as you have some concrete goals in place, you’ll be 10x better off than without them.
SMART simply stands for:
It’s a common method of goal-setting that will really help you follow through on what you want to achieve.
For example, you might want to start playing the piano when you quit gaming in college.
But, having the goal to “play piano” won’t be taken as seriously as “within 3 months I will be able to play Clair de Lune by Debussy.”
See the difference?
“I want to learn Spanish” VS “I will take 2 Spanish lessons every week and pass the B1 conversational level test within 6 months”.
Use this framework to set some goals of your own. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do since you were a kid, this is the place to put it into writing.
If you have absolutely no idea what you want to do, that’s OK. Take some time off to have a think. Start small. What’s a project you could launch? What’s a new skill you’ve always wanted to learn?
Action Step: Spend some time writing down what you want to achieve after you finish this detox using the SMART goal formula.
This step might take the most time out of all of them. But, as we said, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
In a months time, you might even find yourself wanting to do something completely different.
All that matters is you hit the ground running. The easier you make the start of this journey for yourself, the more successful you will be.
A failure to plan is a plan to fail.
If you start without any clear directions of what to do, you’ll spend your time watching YouTube or mindlessly browsing the internet.
Now’s the time to shape your future.
How to Find New Hobbies
No more half-assing. Okay?
From this day forward you’re going to devote 100% of your passion into whatever skills you decide to take up.
If you don’t feel like picking up your guitar and learning chords – tough. You’re going to force yourself to do whatever you set out to do.
You’ve set these goals so you’re going to follow through with them until they’re done.
Then once you achieve them? You’re going to set new goals and repeat the process. Building that mindset of constant growth is the single most important part of this journey.
If you’re not growing, you’re either stagnant or shrinking.
That’s not to say you can’t take days off. I don’t subscribe to the 16 hours a day hustle mindset. However, you do need to force yourself to never be content with who you are.
If you can improve yourself 1% every day, within a few years you’ll be exactly where you deserve to be.
Change Up Your Environment
Last but not least, I want to talk about how important your environment is in shaping your success.
This includes everything from the friends you talk to, the places you spend your time, and your living environment.
Whenever someone comes to Game Quitters complaining of cravings, the first thing we tell them is to change location. If you’re in a place that makes it impossible to indulge, then it’s impossible for you to do it.
This is much more applicable to gaming, where you can remove yourself from wherever your games are. But, how do you this when you can’t get off your phone?
It’s simple really. Leave your phone at home.
Unless you’re going somewhere you’ll need it, then try going out for a walk without your phone every once in a while.
Chances are, you’re not going to need your phone on a 20-minute walk.
(However, I wouldn’t recommend doing it every time you go out for obvious reasons.)
It’ll give you some time to reflect, build awareness, and think about exactly why you were about to reinstall Instagram.
Now it’s over to you.
You’ve got the knowledge and a solid foundation with which to start taking back control.
Instant gratification affects everyone. Especially in the modern world.
But, if you can learn to overcome it you’ll be putting yourself miles above 99% of the world.
You’ll have intense focus, deep passions, and iron discipline that Jocko would be proud of.
If you’re looking for the perfect place to start, check out our Respawn program. It’s designed for people exactly like you. People that want to change their life, and want to build themselves into something they can be proud of.
As always, thanks for reading. Until next time.