How often do you find yourself buying things other than those you had pre-decided while in the supermarket? Or doing things on impulse? Or being unable to stop yourself from eating unhealthy food, especially when working on improving your health? If you agree to these situations then you might be facing a problem with controlling your impulses and face difficulty in delaying gratification, which is the act of resisting an impulse to take an immediately available reward in the hope of obtaining a much more valued reward in the future. This delaying gratification is also essential for self-regulation.
In 1972, psychologist Walter Mischel conducted the famous marshmallow experiment where he found that participants who as a child were unable to resist eating marshmallows in front of them knowing that they would be rewarded with more marshmallows if they do not get tempted with this first one, became adults who were less likely to finish college and earned lesser incomes than children who delayed their gratification and controlled their impulses. A possible reason may be that while instant gratification gives us the reward we seek, it also distracts us from meaningful pursuits in life that may further result in destructive financial, health, or social outcomes.
So, how to control these impulses or learn delay of gratification? A hack that you can learn from the kids who successfully controlled their impulses is a positive distraction. They sang songs and created a kind of play for themselves to control their impulses. You can also positively distract yourself when you feel an impulse. For example: Think about an impulse you have a hard time controlling and write a few positive distractions that you can use when you feel those impulses in the comment section.
Bonus tip: Tracking and journaling your impulses is a reliable and efficient way to improve your overall capacity to delay gratification. Hence, try to note down your everyday progress in a journal and how that makes you feel after the day. This will make you more self-aware as well as mindful about your impulse control.
Remember, controlling impulses and delaying gratification helps in many areas of life but it’s okay to have a few cheat days in a while.
“The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.”
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