Instant Gratification: Self-Regulation in the Modern World

instant gratificationA majority of Americans say rudeness — particularly behind the wheel, on cell phones and in customer service — is the biggest trigger to their anger. Here is where you need to use anger management to counterbalance your hostile, 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.

Expectations of instant gratification versus the capacity to self-regulate have become embedded in modern life. Historically, people were raised in conditions where some level of hardship was the norm. Thrift used to be an essential part of middle class life and the things you longed for did not appear instantly, they had to be earned. As a result, there was much more value and appreciation for what you had, rather than focusing on what you lacked. There was a sense of pride in mastery and achievement in having worked one’s way to a goal, in having had experiences with adversity and growth from struggle. In the past, we welcomed challenges, learning to ‘make-do’, to adapt, to wait, or to work for lengthy periods to achieve a goal. Of course nobody would suggest that today we should increase hardship and create obstacles to earn everything we want or need. There has to be some happy medium.

We need to have success with self-control and learn to apply consistent effort to be responsible. Wellbeing does not come from easy indulgence, but from the sense of being in control, with confidence in their personal effort and being the master of one’s fate. Maturity is about finding out that you can’t always have what you want, that you can deal with that, and still be healthy and happy. The learning that results from delaying gratification contributes to the growth of resilience. Resilient men have the capacity to withstand setbacks, to rise to a challenge, to find new ways of solving problems, to feel a sense of self-confidence in managing the social and material world, and to know that hardship can be overcome.

Some of us grew up in circumstances where instant gratification was the norm. Everyone has seen children 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 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. These 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 those who grew up on this diet of instant gratification? They have difficulties in life related to problems with impulse control or self-regulation. These are central components of many psychological disorders from alcoholism to drug abuse to gambling to pornography addiction to anger. 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. This interpretation often antagonizes a situation. Feeling entitled to something they aren’t getting, leads to a sense of unfairness, which triggers exaggerated outbursts of anger.

Angry driver photo available from Shutterstock

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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