Delayed Gratification & Recovery: How To Practice It, Impulse Control, Importance & Exercises
What Is Delayed Gratification?
Delayed gratification is the act of focusing on building long-term success, even if it means enduring discomfort or even pain in the present. You work through the difficult present moment because you know that in the future, your work will pay off. Instant gratification, on the other hand, is ignoring the future and taking the immediate satisfaction available in the present moment, no matter how much that may endanger you down the road.
Many celebrity overdoses and overdoses nationwide are the result of instant gratification. There is a strong connection between delayed gratification and sober living, with people in recovery mastering the art of impulse control so they can stay on their path of sobriety. Delayed gratification (AKA deferred gratification) is the ability of people to wait for the good things in life. Those individuals who find it difficult to delay gratification will often find it intolerable to have to put off their enjoyment.
Instant gratification can be the thief of sobriety and happiness. Looking for instant satisfaction from life can often reinforce bad habits like drug use or drinking. People who value instant gratification may use drugs to keep off withdrawal symptoms rather than investing in their long-term happiness by enduring the withdrawals to build lasting sobriety.
Delayed Gratification: Life Involves Pleasure and Pain
Most humans will agree that it is preferable to experience pleasure than pain. In fact, most of the advances in human history have occurred as a result of this preference. It is not possible to live a life where there is only pleasure. In fact, many people believe that a life with no discomfort would be a bit boring.
It is the ups and downs in life that keep things interesting. It is also often the case that people will need to put up with a bit of discomfort now in order to experience pleasure later. Those individuals who try to avoid ever facing such discomfort can really struggle to find happiness in life. It can easily lead them into addiction and other maladaptive behaviors.
Is Delayed Gratification Good?
Delayed gratification is very good for a person. It is a type of impulse control that can help with achieving long-term goals of health, happiness, and success. It’s seeing the finish line, no matter how far off it may be, and pursuing the goal without being distracted by less substantial immediate gratification.
For sobriety, delayed gratification is paramount, it allows people to hold strong against their withdrawals, cravings, and other challenges in pursuit of lasting sobriety. There is a strong relationship between self-control and delayed gratification, with individuals needing strong impulse control skills to stick to their chosen path.
How to Practice Delayed Gratification
The very neurobiology of addiction often hardwires a person’s reward systems for instant gratification, so staying on track with the needed self-control for delayed gratification can feel impossible. But with the right therapy, guidance, and support, you can avoid instant satisfaction and follow the long-term path of success by sticking to your recovery plan.
It is very hard for people to learn how to delay gratification. This is because their current inability to defer pleasure is usually something they have learned and it becomes difficult to unlearn. It is a challenge to overcome these negative habits but the rewards of doing so make the effort worth it. The individual can learn to delay gratification by:
- Practicing meditation so they can have a clearer picture of their own mental habits and impulses. Mindfulness meditation is particularly good for this, and the individual learns that they do not have to obey those thoughts that push for instant gratification.
- If people have clear goals that they really desire it will be easier for them to delay gratification. It will mean that they have a good reason for making sacrifices now.
- Mental visualizations of how good it will be to achieve a goal will encourage people to make the necessary sacrifices now.
- People should be wary of any claims of instant results. Most things that are worthwhile in life involve at least some initial sacrifice.
- It is important for people to learn how to appreciate the process of achieving things rather than just wanting to get to their goal as fast as possible. There can actually be a great deal of pleasure to be found in the process of making dreams a reality.
- It is a good idea to keep a journal. This will allow the individual to track their progress in their attempts to get better at delaying gratification.
- Once people begin to experience the benefits of deferring gratification it becomes easier to do – it eventually becomes a habit.
- Delaying gratification does not mean that people need to postpone their enjoyment of life. The ideal situation is for people to live in the moment but plant positive seeds for the future.
Delayed Gratification and Impulse Control
Delayed gratification is closely related to impulse control. Those people who have an impulse disorder experience a failure to resist an impulsive act that may be harmful to themselves or other people. It is believed that many of those people who are unable to delay gratification may be dealing with poor impulse control. This means that they need to experience pleasure now no matter what the latter consequences. This may help to explain why people will be at risk of the pain of addiction for a momentary high.
Inability To Practice Delayed Gratification and the Addictive Personality
The inability to delay gratification is considered to be one of the characteristics of an addictive personality. Other traits associated with those who tend to fall into addiction include:
- These people tend to feel highly insecure in relationships
- High degree of tolerance for deviance
- Non-conformity is admired
- Such people tend to believe that they have a high degree of stress in their life
- Feelings of low self-esteem
Reasons To Practice Delayed Gratification
There are good reasons for why people benefit from the ability to delay gratification such as:
- Those individuals who are unable to delay gratification will often end up with results that are less satisfactory than if they have waited.
- Many of the good things in life involve a bit of sacrifice in order to cash in on later rewards. For example, those who enjoy good physical health will exercise regularly and eat sensibly.
- Those individuals who are unable to delay their gratification will be at risk of causing harm to other people. For example, the alcoholic mother who becomes intoxicated when she is meant to be taking care of her children.
- It is suggested that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything. Those individuals who are unwilling to delay gratification are unlikely to make such a sacrifice in time.
- The ability to defer gratification shows that the individual has a degree of self-control. Those who lack self control will tend to move from one disaster to the next.
- There can be a sweet pleasure associated with delaying enjoyment. It means that the individual has something to look forward to.
- When people put off their enjoyment for later they can use it as a type of reward to increase motivation. A good example of this would be the person trying to lose weight who has a day off from their diet where they are allowed to eat junk food.
- People do not want to be overly focused on the future but if people do not prepare for it they are likely to suffer. For instance, if people fail to sacrifice some of their money now for a pension scheme they may have no money to live on in old age.
Dangers of Not practicing Delayed Gratification
There are dangers associated with the inability to delay gratification including:
- The individual will act impulsively in order to satisfy their momentary desires. Impulsive actions are more likely to produce bad results.
- The individual will have no real control over their life. They are like a dog chasing its tail.
- This person who is unable to delay gratification will actually be limiting their pleasure.
- Their physical and mental health is likely to suffer
- They will fail to plan and prepare adequately for the future
- This person will feel miserable when they are put in a position where they have to delay gratification
- The actions of this type of individual will cause misery for other people.
Importance of Delayed Gratification in Recovery
It may be particularly important for people who are recovering from an addiction to be able to delay gratification. This is because in order to get the most from sobriety the individual needs to approach life in a new way. Just giving up alcohol or drugs is usually not enough to ensure happiness and success in life. The individual will need to begin chipping away at the character flaws that help lead them into substance abuse in the first place.
One of the personal characteristics that are likely to continue to cause problems in recovery is the inability to delay gratification. It is important that the individual overcomes this character flaw because:
- If people lack impulse control they will easily slip back into addiction. They may use the slightest hiccup in their recovery as justification for a relapse.
- In order to develop emotional sobriety the individuals will need to learn how to deal with their uncomfortable feelings as well as their nice ones. They need to escape the tendency to run away from anything that is painful.
- In order to develop a degree of serenity in life the individual will need to learn how to face and overcome challenges.
- If people continue to put gratification first in their life it will mean that they are likely to fall into other forms of addictive behavior – this is usually referred to as addiction substitution.
Delayed Gratification Exercises
One of the easiest ways to begin exercising your delayed gratification muscles is by practicing mindfulness to undo “autopilot” thinking. The more aware we become of our automatic behavioral reactions to impulses, the better prepared we are to delay those impulses. Interrupting the default mode does require more energy and can be uncomfortable at first. It can, however, make us more mindful of our behavior and reactions.
Another way to exercise delayed gratification is through the use of strengths. A great way to bring forward a lower strength is by using a core strength (Niemiec, 2018). If self-regulation is on the lower portion of your strengths list, core strength can pull it forward. For instance, someone who has ‘Love’ as one of their top three VIA character strengths can use that strength to tow self-regulation forward. An example might be saying to yourself, “I love you too much to eat that cookie right now.”
Another way to bolster a lower strength is by using it in a new way every day. This will likely feel inauthentic and difficult at first, but it can have long-term rewards. Here are some steps to build a lower strength, like self-regulation:
- Choose the strength you’d like to build
- Give yourself a reward when you successfully use it
- Make the strength’s use part of daily routine
- Create a visual cue
Three specific actions you can take to help build your delayed gratification muscles.
- Monitor your distractions first. Phone, TV, and the internet may be a good place to start. You can install apps to monitor your usage and see how you’re really spending your time.
- Eliminate objects of temptation. It’s much easier to avoid junk food when it isn’t in our homes.
- The next time something upsets you, try to control your emotions. Focus on the choices that you have in handling the situation. When emotions are more easily digestible, it can be easier to make clear decisions in real time.
Reclaim Your Life With Delayed Gratification & Recovery
Substance Abuse Disorder is a serious condition that can cause health, social and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. There is a strong connection between delayed gratification and sober living, with people in recovery mastering the art of impulse control so they can stay on their path of sobriety.
We Level Up Treatment Center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from addiction in a professional and safe way. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors, we can inform you about different techniques to treat drug addiction by giving you relevant information, our specialists know what you are going through. Have in mind that each call is private and confidential.
 Niemiec, R. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Hogrefe.