Leaving the Land of Immediate Gratification

We have come to know a world in which so much unfolds instantaneously, the best of our traits — patience, focus, attentiveness, and intention — are becoming unpracticed.

If you are unaware of your dependence on immediate gratification, the first day you attempt to live in the slow lane (by which I mean normal human speed), you and your dependence are guaranteed to go into hand-to-hand combat. But, God, does it feel good to come out on the other side — even if roughed up a bit — the champion of this battle? (< that’s rhetorical)

The History of IGD

Immediate Gratification Disorder (IGD) has been on the incline since the invention of the printing press and, centuries later, the telephone and then removal of switchboard operators at plug boards and then the pager, mobile phone, and Internet, and then MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, and then the complete breakdown of the English language for the sake of quicker tweets and texts (RBTL).

In other words, we have all been afflicted to a degree, and it only gets worse from here.

The sooner you can begin treating this disorder, the easier it will be as we move forward — even faster — into a potential future of split-second conversations, blink-quick learning lessons, and light-speed lives.

Remember how dialing up was so exciting? In just one to two minutes, you could be deposited into the amazing world of the Internet. After typing in the address to your email account, in just one to two minutes more, you could be reading a message that would have taken at least a few days to arrive by traditional mail.

Telephone operator

I bet you’ve also had the same reaction as I when visiting that weird uncle of yours who lives deep in the woods and doesn’t know they have since invented 3G, DSL, cable, and fiber optic options to get online. I think it looks something like this: pulling own hair out, eyes ready to pop from sockets, expletive, expletive, quadruple-clicking the Refresh button juuuust to be sure, expletive.

When It Matters Most to Be IGD Free

I get an IGD tick the second I start writing. The objective is to give this craft all of my attention, yet, even if I’m deep in creation, my head pops up the second I need to look for a fact, double-check a reference, find a synonym for the word I keep using over and over, or see if whatever it is I’m writing about has been written to death by others.

There’s a good discussion about “TK” (and distractedness while writing, in general) in an interview between Tim Ferriss and Neil Strauss — a great video for anyone interested in enhancing their creative process (creativeLIVE: Writing, Creativity). In a phonetic sense, TK represents “to come” (too kuhm) — as in, keep your mind on the friggin’ task and worry about that small detail later! Unless you’re writing about boxing, you’re likely not going to find the juxtaposition of these two letters in other words in the dictionary, so TK can be quickly located using your search function.

In fact, I had a TK opportunity a few paragraphs ago, but instead got lost online when “double-checking” invention years to make sure I had everything in order. Not sure I even do now. That turned into clicking on an ad regarding which celebrities look most weathered due to drug use. Which led to reading about plastic oversurgery. Fifteen minutes of this, and do I really care? Not really — I don’t even watch TV to know who most of these people are — although I wish them all the best. The point is: That craving to satisfy my curiosity RIGHT NOW led to a whole lot of wasted time and no actual answers.

Text Messaging is a Carrier of IGD

Here’s a thought: Put your text alert on silent mode. Have we not learned anything from Pavlov’s experiments? Does the dinner bell (sans dinner) mean we must look at our phones that VERY second, even though we possess that special gift called metacognition? And don’t you just hate when someone has the same alert as you in a store or while out with friends and you — like a broken record — reach into your purse every time you hear that ding, only to find no one is there?

Are we so desperate for these messages to validate our existence, our aliveness?

For the single ladies, a tip: If you’re trying to restrain a bit when it comes to a new love interest, holding your cell phone in your hand as you wait for his text response is not helping you take your time with your interaction, with the slow unfolding of yourself. If you want to demonstrate to him that you have a whole other life going on besides being the recipient of his text messages, why not go all the way and actually demonstrate it to yourself?

It’s hard, I know. But how does it feel when all of your energy is on the beeps and blips of a half-hearted conversation and suddenly you’re no longer getting responses? Far more pregnant with symbolism than it actually is — it’s a much less painful blow if you’re already doing your own thing. Use proTEXTion: That’s right, wrap it up — as in, quickly end that not-quite-a-real conversation so you can get back to your day or even go spend some person-to-person time in person with that person or another person, phone free.

Don’t get me wrong. Text messaging can be a convenient way to communicate something quickly or a fun way to flirt a little, but I’m talking about the extreme version here — when you’re picking up your phone every few minutes for an entire day or every day because you have allowed yourself to become conditioned to do so. Engaging in these often pointless interruptions strips away all of your focus on you, as well as on your loved (and liked) ones.

Opened blank book with clipping path

IGD Doesn’t Have to Rule Your Life

It’s not only about electronics, although our affair with them tends to spread to the other areas of our lives: our business or career, finances, relationships, and our personal goals, including fitness, health, our dreams.

Immediate Gratification Disorder is the killer of all murdered goals. Here are three common examples:

  1. With a career goal in mind, you stop looking after a short time because you haven’t been hired yet.
  2. With a weight goal in mind, you stop working out after a short time because you haven’t hit it yet.
  3. With an artistic goal in mind, you stop creating after a short time because you haven’t finished it yet.

This might sound paradoxical, but hear me out: If you must feel the rush of immediate gratification in order to stay motivated, set smaller, shorter goals. It’s not about the end, but the actions necessary to get there. I’ll come back to this.

In the meantime, based on each of the three examples above, here are some ideas for action-related goals that can keep you feeling accomplished on a regular basis (this notion inspired by many great teachers, including recently, for me: Tim Ferriss, Lisa Wilder, Mastin Kipp):

  1. Send out one resume per day (if you send out three, you’re an animal!)
  2. Work out for 10 minutes each day (if you decide to go for 30, great, but who can’t do 10?)
  3. Write five sentences per day (five sentences is easy breezy, so if you happen to write five pages — more power to you!)

It’s Not About the End Goal — It’s About the Actions That Foster That Goal

While at first we may credit immediate gratification for the joy of achieving bite-sized goals, over time we will recognize this “immediate” satisfaction as something else entirely: engagement in our own lives.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard


To live for immediate gratification is to live in a world where the mental chatter of everyone has been flipped inside out — window-shattering cacophony — causing our attention to be split into every shard of scattered glass, leaving you feeling quite incomplete and “behind” in life.

On the other hand, to live by packing the most substance into today — starting right where you are — is a surefire way to find clarity through that same, whole window.

To glimpse the reflection of your whole self therein.

To bring perpetual joy and lasting gratification to your life as a whole.

Are you giving up too soon when it comes to a goal? Can you think of ways that you might break that goal down into smaller pieces? What is one action you can take today to indulge in the slowness of things? 

If something here sparked something in you, please like or share this post. Or, better yet, indulge me with your own thoughts in the comments section below.

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