Let Me Start With A Story:
In the 1960s an American psychologist assembled a group of young children to partake in a potentially very rewarding experiment.
They were individually led into a room, empty of distractions, where a treat of their choice was placed on a table in front of them (a marshmallow for example).
The children were told they could eat the marshmallow there and then, but if they waited fifteen minutes, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.
Some children wolfed down the marshmallow without any thought, while others managed to distract themselves by covering their eyes, fidgeting or carrying out other useless activities that prevented the temptation of consuming the tantalising treat that lay before them.
While the researchers found that the children who were able to wait longer for their preferred rewards tended to have better positive life outcomes such as academic success, physical and psychological health and social competence, it’s far more interesting to observe that this very same experimental setting occurs in life every single day for adults.
Progress been a bit slow lately; the inches that were rapidly coming off not so long ago are starting to portray a stubbornness akin to that of a tenacious four-year-old who can’t get his way, while that once fearless motivation is starting to wane a little. That end image of you waltzing down the beach with the body you so desire just seems a little fuzzy at the moment.
The office cookies then arrive. Oh god, they look great.
You’re now caught in the throes of an intense psychological battle with none other than yourself – consume that cookie which you know may derail your progress even more, but experience a satisfaction that will undoubtedly taste so good (like Ben’s Cookie triple chocolate chunk good), or pass on the opportunity and take a step closer to that lean body you really really want.
Jeez, That Happens To Me All The Time – What Is That!?
This intense psychological battle we all have to undertake in our everyday lives is called INSTANT GRATIFICATION:
A habit where you forgo short-term pain, which will eventually have led to long-term pleasure, and instead indulge in short-term pleasure that might eventually lead to long-term pain.
The short-term pleasure being that seducing cookie in this instance, the long-term pleasure being that lean physique you really really want.
What’s more, we as humans often act upon the pleasure principle – the driving force that coerces us into satisfying our needs, wants and urges. When we don’t fulfil this desire for pleasure we tend to experience anxiety and tension. Yep, relinquishing the chance to devour that cookie often leads to us getting a little ratty. We don’t like getting ratty.
You See, The Big Problem Is This:
You can’t actually physically see that lean figure you really really want. It’s somewhere out there, lurking in a deep dark corner, but there’s a small part of you that knows that this arbitrary ‘thing’ may never come true.
Waiting, and delaying gratification for that matter, is hard. This combination of necessary sacrifice and future uncertainty quickly causes things to go awry. The little voices in your head to start to surface: ‘See I told you this wouldn’t work.’ ‘Will you ever actually get the body you want?’ ‘Eat the damn cookie’.
Before you know it you’ve said ‘sod it’ and demolished the cookie. Yes, I saw you.
The pleasures of the moment just seem so much more appealing than the momentary ‘pain’ you may need to experience to achieve the ultimate outcome. This is why instant gratification is a real pain in the butt when it comes to achieving the fat loss results you want.
So, Please, I Can’t Take it Anymore, What Do I Do!?
OK calm down, I got you.
Trust The Process
This wouldn’t be a complete fitness blog without a complete fitness cliché. Just thank god I didn’t make it into a motivational meme with a bloke standing with his arms stretched out wide longingly looking into an elegant sunrise to emphasise its importance.
But seriously, it’s time to trust the process.
It is imperative to continually believe that the work you’re putting in everyday is going to pay off later on. Even though the miniscule, seemingly irrelevant, actions you take (turning down a cookie or getting to the gym for an extra session during the week) appear to have little impact on the end goal, over time these small accomplishments all add up.
People greatly underestimate the power of simply showing up, every day, doing something positive.
The moment you’re embroiled in the instant gratification trap you must try and distract yourself with another activity or at least separate yourself from the burning emotions that are tempting you to whatever short-term pleasure is staring you right in the face.
Fidgeting uncontrollably in your office chair may cause a few eyebrows to be raised, but it’s time to think logically about the situation, not just emotionally. Ask yourself whether or not you’re willing to sacrifice your future, that lean physique you’ve been yearning for for years, for fleeting moments of relative insignificance and ultimately trivial pleasure.
I like to use the 10/10/10 Rule:
Ask yourself: if you eventually decide to consume that enticing chocolate-chip cookie how will you feel about it 10 minutes from now? How about 10 hours from now? How about 10 months from now?
Using these 10/10/10 time frames helps to level the emotional playing field. What we feel now, in that present moment, is intense and sharp; the future, however, feels fuzzier and more uncertain. Utilising this valuable method asks us to imagine a moment 10 months into the future with the same ‘freshness’ we feel in the present.
It wouldn’t be a long-term goal if there weren’t potential obstacles ahead. Celebrations, sad times, holidays and the time Karen got a promotion at work and decided to bring in a box of fifty cookies to celebrate, for example. If you’re not ready to deal with these problems, it becomes all too easy to indulge in these short-term pleasures. It’s vital to avoid getting caught off-guard by the temptations life will throw at you.
I like to use a technique called Implementation Intentions:
Implementation intentions allow you to specify a behaviour you intend to take when a specific situation arises. For example, telling yourself:
‘If I’m at a wedding, I’ll only allow myself one glass of wine’.
‘If someone brings biscuits in to the office I won’t have any; I don’t really like biscuits and don’t actually need them’.
Implementation intentions allow you to plan ahead of time with a specific action you’re going to take in order to achieve your goals. The ‘if-then’ strategy provides you with a clear plan for overcoming obstacles which means you’ll be less likely to be swept away by the temptations of life. The environment becomes a cue for your behaviour; not your motivation there and then.
Embrace Short-Term Pain
Embracing short-term pain is potentially the trickiest solution to the problem, yet probably the most rewarding.
No long-term goal, specifically that lean figure you want, will come without its struggles and discomfort. Going a little bit hungry, experiencing severe FOMO (fear of missing out, come on now) and rebuffing the relentless invitations to ‘have some of my delicious birthday cake’, is all part of the long-term game you’re playing.
It’s during these times when the instant gratification trap will come into play and it’s during these moments that you must resist the temptation to succumb to the urges for temporary pleasure.
OK, You’ve Been Going on a While Now, Let’s Wrap It Up:
The cookies, marshmallows, cakes or whatever other indulgences that float your boat will come and go. The ongoing desire to look the way you want to look will always be there.
I’d take a guess and say these long-term goals are probably way more important to you than the momentary (yep, momentary) temptations that are thrown your way. Getting into the habit of delaying that burning gratification will provide you with a greater sense of control over your life, decisions and actions. It will also ultimately enable you to reach the ultimate, long-term goals you have.