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Can you resist the irresistible

Can you resist the irresistible...or does instant gratification win every time?

It's common human behaviour that when we've had a bad day, we look to something to make us happier. While for many of us, it's a gym session or a meal with friends, for others, it's fast food or alcohol. We may even tell ourselves that it's a reward for enduring a tough day. This is referred to as instant gratification.

You may have heard about this already from the Marshmallow Test. This was a 1972 study conducted by Stanford University, where children were put in a room and given a marshmallow or pretzel, depending on their preference. The child was given the option to eat the item immediately or wait 15 minutes and get two. The children were then followed as they grew up, and the results showed that those who waited the 15 minutes achieved higher results at school and possessed higher self-esteem and the ability to delay gratification was linked to the capability to cope with stress and frustration.

When we reach for a glass of wine or chocolate bar, we feel immediately better, however this short-term fix often results in us feeling even worse the next day. Taking the opposite approach and delaying gratification allows us to focus on activities that provide lasting benefits beyond the present moment. This requires a change in mind-set and a focus on self-discipline, but the rewards are well worth it, as once you’ve mastered this, the next time you have a bad day, you’ll have the mental resilience and skills to cope.

Here are some tips to help you migrate from seeking instant gratification to a much-healthier delayed gratification:

Start now

They say there's no time like the present, and in this case it certainly bears true. The sooner you embark on the steps below, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits of delayed gratification. The positive thing is that it won’t take long to feel that your life is improving, and that in itself will motivate you to continue your journey.

Build the physical foundations first

To meet our mental wellbeing needs, our physical needs need to be met first. This means ensuring you have adequate sleep, take time out to rest and relax and eat a balanced and nutritional diet.

Take small, manageable steps

You may be changing behaviour you've been displaying for years, or even your whole life, so be realistic in your goal setting. If you haven't been on a run for years, start out with a short, light jog or even a walk and build up to the full deal. If you haven't been giving 100% at work lately, there's no need to suddenly take on a new project. Instead, concentrate on improving what you are doing now, and soon you'll feel ready to take on new challenges.

Write down

Whether you’re working towards personal or professional goals, write these down in a diary or notebook and break down the end goal into the steps above. As you achieve each goal, note that down and celebrate! Seeing your progress is motivational and good encouragement, especially on days which might be a struggle.

Practise self-kindness

Like any goal, especially when it involves a change in behaviour and mind-set, there will be days when it's harder to motivate yourself than others. Practise self-acceptance during these times, be kind to yourself and remember that missing a run that day or not giving 100% to your job is okay every once in a while. You'll get back on track tomorrow! The most important thing to do is stay positive – about yourself, your progress, and your ability to finish the journey.

Focus on what makes you happy

A simple trick to pivot your brain from dwelling on barriers or things you feel aren’t going well, is to think about experiences and people that have made you happy in the past. Have a mental list on hand (or note these in your diary) to call on when you need them. It could be the time you won an award at work, had a great team building day with colleagues, or a family beach holiday that stands out in your mind and makes you smile. This will help to reset your brain, bringing it back to a positive state.

Reach out for support

Our relationships with loved ones are a source of happiness in our lives, and these important people will be instrumental to being a supportive platform and ear to listen as you focus on changing your mind-set and behaviour. It's also important to widen the circle and include friends, colleagues and professionals as needed too. Define your support circle as you start to change your mind-set, and make sure you check in with them regularly and when you need them.

Wellness as a subject is the vogue at the moment. Regardless any actions that we take to develop, protect, maintain and improve our health and wellbeing will be time well spent.

Author: Peter Robinson
Team Management Services