Learning To Say ‘No’ To Instant Gratification Can Change Your Life


We live in an age when one-click online shopping, repeatedly checking our number of likes on an Instagram post and jumping up every time our cell phones make a sound is considered normal. In fact, these things are more than normal. They’ve become automatic components of how we experience daily life.

But what would happen if we chose to pause? And even better, what would happen if we just flat out said “no” to these things that are really nothing more than distractions from the present moment?

Luckily, we have that opportunity, because impulse control isn’t something that some people are born with and others are born without. It is a learned skill that anyone can develop so long as they decide they want it and then choose to practice over time. And here are some of the wonderful life changes that occur when you make this positive shift yourself.

Unsplash/William Stitt

You refamiliarize yourself with the feeling of anticipation.

Do you remember what it feels like to really desire something? When you live in a place of perpetual instant gratification, you don’t even allow enough time to pass for anticipation to rise within your body. You lose touch with that heart flutter when you realize you’re falling in love, that skin-tingling excitement when you can finally purchase that new winter coat (and actually afford it), and that full-body high when you achieve a long-term goal you’ve worked patiently and tirelessly toward for an extended period of time. Those are such amazing feelings that make the end result even better.

You make fewer not-so-great decisions.

If you decided to wait 48 hours before “proceeding to checkout” with any of your online shopping carts, we bet you’d end up either forgetting entirely about this amazing thing you thought you wanted in the moment or decide it wasn’t so amazing after all and save your money for something else. And that logic applies to countless other aspects of life as well — dating, happy hour, social media ranting, quitting your job, the list goes on and on. Time will be on your side if you choose to let it be. It reduces immediate stress and creates important space for you to make smart choices.

You learn to find value in the journey — not just the destination.

Instant gratification is all about receiving the end result right now. There is no path, no process, no journey. It’s entirely black and white — you want, you get. But that crucial space that can exist in between is what makes the thing you finally receive or achieve so valuable. Take training for a marathon as an example. Do you really think completing a marathon would be considered anything special if just anyone set out one morning and did it? It takes months of training and hard work to get to the place where your body can handle the stress and your mind can feel pride in the accomplishment. And any long-distance runner will tell you that every run leading up to the big day is just as important (if not more so) as the race itself.

Unsplash/Zach Minor

You understand the subtle difference between delayed gratification and self-control.

When you live in a space of instant gratification, it’s easy to pass off this ability to plan and be patient as self-control. And while it’s similar to delayed gratification, it most definitely isn’t the same thing. Self-control and willpower evoke this feeling of constantly working with no return on your investment. Delayed gratification says you certainly have to work for what you want, but what you want is within sight. It gives you a path to follow with a light at the end to keep you motivated and powered by momentum each step of the way.

You realize working for what you want is entirely worth it.

Rewards that take more effort to reach taste so much sweeter than the ones we reach as soon as we decide we want them. There’s no doubt about it. Hell, we don’t even notice half the rewards we receive immediately these days as rewards anymore because they blend so seamlessly into the typical scheme of life. But pair hard work and impulse control together, and you have the keys to both a happier and more successful life. And let’s be honest — who doesn’t want that?