Impulsive: The Skill of Delaying Gratification

A majority of Americans say rudeness — particularly behind the wheel, on cell phones and in customer service — is a trigger to their emotions. Here is where you need to use reasoning to counterbalance your impulsive infantile insistence on getting what you want when you want it. If you have reached adulthood without having the skill to delay gratification, you can focus on developing this ability now, to reduce impulse-related problems throughout your life.

Some of us grew up in situations in which instant gratification was the norm. We have all seen children today who are showered with toys, are given any food they like at any time they like, have entertainment on tap, without having to go looking for it. Whatever they want they can have, without actually having to wait for it, to earn it, create it, or to find an alternative if it’s not available. For such children, new toys can become a two-minute wonder, played with fleetingly because they are so easy to get. But are soon, quickly cast aside in favor of the next gratification. The children learn to expect that what they want will always be provided and they won’t have to wait or make an effort.

So, what happens to children who live on this diet of instant gratification? They often are poor learners of social skills, have little appreciation, no gratitude or regard other people’s feelings, and in the longer term, a sense of omnipotence which can lead to difficulties in the face of life’s challenges and frustrations. When something goes wrong for others, it’s their fault. When something goes wrong for them, it’s not their fault; it’s the fault of external forces. They project blame. This projection often antagonizes a situation. Feeling entitled to something they aren’t getting leads to frustration, which leads to emotional eruptions and exaggerated reactions.

The antidote is called courage. I define courage as the willingness to do what is hard and do it anyways. We protect small small children from risk, if we do not it is called neglect. We do not expect newborns to do what is hard. But they grow so fast and before long they are not small children anymore. As children grow, parents give more freedom and allow them to take appropriate risks. In turn, chidren have choices now that they didn’t have as infants. They can begin to be responsible for their own happiness.

Sometimes struggle is exactly what we need in our life. If nature allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been.

Even with the obligations and commitments of adulthood, we all have choices, even if we do not like our options,  do what is hard or do what is easy. Either way the choice is ours and there will be a consequence no matter what we choose.

Value comes from doing what is hard. We value gold or diamonds because they are precious and hard to get. We value a home, career, education or relationships because they are hard, but that’s what gives them value. It is up to us. We won’t experience courage until after we have taken the risk of doing what is hard.

Hard things can make us feel insecure, which triggers fear, which increases the need for control.  Courage is also the willingness to take a risk by trusting your judgment to solve problems in reality, not preventing potential disaster that may or may not ever happen. We have the power to take life as it comes and do the best we can with it. That is power and control, and it is not too much or too little – it is just enough.

We can model for children how to take responsibility for our efforts to pursue what makes us happy. Ask yourself: ‘ What am I trying to achieve? What are my choices?’ Then use your adult judgment to choose how much effort is required until you have done enough. By trusting your judgement for how much is enough, you must be willing to take the risk and that is what courage is all about.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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