Working towards and achieving our goals is very important to our sense of well-being. Whether we are embarking on a fitness programme, studying, saving for a large purchase or working to improve ourselves in some way, a sense of achievement is essential to our development. However, as we are all aware, achieving our goals can be hindered by the self-sabotaging pull of instant gratification. So how do we prevent these instant gratifiers from acting as obstacles to our long-term successes?

Succumbing to Temptation

When we embark on achieving a long-term goal, we can easily find ourselves succumbing to instant gratification, which can make successful completion of our goals difficult. Those of us, for example, who have tried to lose weight, will undoubtedly have experienced the temptation to stray from our planned eating and fitness plans at some point. So, given that we know a healthy diet and lifestyle is good for us and benefits both our physical and mental well-being, why do we find it much easier to succumb to the temptations of unhealthy food and watching TV, than our plans to eat healthily and exercise?

Instant Gratification

As our society becomes more fast-paced, we are increasingly exposed to a sense that instant gratification exists everywhere. Smart devices allow us to access information quickly and without much effort. We can communicate instantly with people, through phone calls, instant messaging or emails, with just the click of a button. The ‘quick fix’ is all around us, and quite simply, we don’t have to put much effort into things that previously would have required more of our time and patience. Instant gratification appeals to our emotions in such a way that our logic and sense of reason are overlooked. We use instant gratifiers to remove ourselves from the challenges we face when trying to achieve our goals, because often, these obstacles can be painful or unpleasant, and it becomes easier in the short term to avoid them or substitute them with something which will instantly satisfy us.

Long-Term Effects

In the long term, however, constantly succumbing to instant gratification is not beneficial to us. We can become anxious, stressed and unhappy if we are not achieving the goals that are important to us. If we are constantly unable to resist the temptation of instant gratification, we could well find that our goals will never be achieved. Thus, learning to sacrifice instant rewards for longer-term achievements will allow us to value hard work and effort, improve our self-esteem and ultimately be happier and more fulfilled.

Tips for a Healthy Balance

We’re not saying that you should never allow yourself to have that long-lie, piece of cake or extra night out. It’s really important to enjoy day-to-day life as well as work for your future. Just remember what you want your future to be, and why it feels important to you. Moderation is key, and if you do choose a short-term gratifier that sabotages your long-term plans, just be sure it will feel worth it tomorrow.

Here are our tips for maintaining a healthy balance between instant and long-term gratification:

  • Remember to reward yourself: Rewards are important as they help us stick to our long-term plans by reminding us that every achievement along the way is important. The knowledge that there is a reward waiting for us just around the corner will make us work harder, and continue to work just as hard throughout our journey to long-term achievement. The rewards must not, however, be something that will sabotage your long-term goal. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, it is unhelpful to have a reward that is food or drink.

  • Congratulate yourself on how well you are doing: Remind yourself throughout that you are doing well and you will get there. No matter where you are in your journey to achieving your goals, you can continue to be in a better position than you were before you started. It is important to remind yourself of this, even when your goals become more challenging to pursue.

  • Don’t be hard on yourself: If you do find yourself succumbing to instant gratification more than you would like, don’t punish yourself. We are all human, and we have days where we make mistakes or succumb to temptation. Use these occasions as an opportunity to increase self-awareness – try to understand why you chose immediate gratification and think about how else to meet that need in the future. Never give up!

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Techniques to Control Cravings and Urges

One technique that we often use with clients at The Green Rooms, is the ‘read and then decide’ exercise. Write a list of probable consequences if you do and don’t do your particular self-sabotaging behaviour. It will list the consequences of this in your short, medium and long-term future. Have the list ready and when you feel the urge to self-sabotage, tell yourself that you will read your pre-written list and then make your decision. For example, the list of someone who is trying to lose weight but finds it difficult not to eat chocolate might look something like this…

If I DO eat the large chocolate bar

Short-term: enjoy taste, feel energy boost, and get rid of craving.

Medium-term (later today and tomorrow): sore stomach, bloated stomach, diarrhoea, sore teeth, insomnia, tiredness due to insomnia, I will feel like a failure.

Long-term: I won’t ever lose the extra weight. I won’t ever feel comfortable wearing a swimming costume. I won’t feel as confident as I could in any of my clothes. I will feel like a failure.

If I DO NOT eat the large chocolate bar

Short-term: I have to deal with craving which I can do by distracting myself.

Medium-term (later today and tomorrow): I will feel pleased with myself that I didn’t self-sabotage, I will feel optimistic about losing weight, and I will feel proud of myself.

Long-term: I will lose the extra weight. I will feel more comfortable wearing a swimming costume. I will feel more confident in my clothes. I will feel like I can achieve anything I put my mind to.

If you are struggling to achieve your goals on your own, Counselling, Psychotherapy or Coaching could be really helpful for you. If you are looking to lose weight, our ‘Weight Loss Psychotherapy & Nutritional Therapy’ service may be suitable for you.

We all only have one life, and it is so important to make the most of the time we have. Contact us to arrange a free consultation, to work out how you can make the most from your life, whether it’s about managing your short, medium or long-term goals.

Written by Jennifer McElroy and Alison Barr