3 Tips to Survive in an Instant Gratification Culture

Published on February 27, 2014 by Lauren

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  • Is it possible to Survive… even THRIVE in an Instant Gratification culture? Yes! But, I do have to be honest – I worry about our culture as a whole and our future. Our nation’s inability to wait for things, unwillingness to plan for the future, and indifference in looking ahead to wait for something better, later in life is really going to be trouble.

    A quick and more modern definition of “Instant Gratification” is the choice to gratify or satisfy a specific desire now as opposed to waiting until later. It implies that if you delay the gratification of your desire, the satisfaction that you will get later will be better and more, well… gratifying. It’s why we opt for fast food instead of using the same amount of money and getting some good quality ingredients from the store and preparing ourselves a meal that will be much better (following a recipe counts). It’s why we would rather have a larger TV now instead of a few hundred more dollars invested into our retirement account.

    It seems like much of our unwillingness to delay gratification is left over from our childhood. This famous Stanford study illustrates it perfectly:

    instant gratification

    Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

    Have you heard of the “Stanford Marshmallow Experiment?” Back in the 60’s and 70’s, a group of Stanford psychologists performed a series of longitudinal studies. A group of children, aged 3-6, were given a marshmallow or other treat of their choice on a table in front of them. The researchers told the children that they could eat it now, but if they waited 15 minutes to take it, they would be rewarded with a second treat.

    Yes – this will relate to money, just read on.

    The researchers studied the results in terms of age, race, socioeconomic status, gender etc.  Not surprisingly, age was a huge factor in predicting whether or not a child was able to wait to get the second treat. But it was the follow-up studies conducted years later that yielded the most interesting results.

    In 1988, the researchers followed up with those same children who were given the choice to eat the treat or to wait.  They found that the children who showed an ability to delay gratification and wait to take the treat had much greater success in terms of general competence, physical health, psychological health and academic/professional success. Some believe that this ability to delay gratification is the definition of maturity itself.

    I noticed some of these trends with my own son as soon as he started wanting to buy new toys himself. The quest to try and get everything you want in life starts early folks.

    Where are we as a Culture?

    Here’s why I’m really worried – credit cards, iPhones, tablets – everything “cool” is aimed at giving customers exactly what they want immediately with as few barriers as possible. I am concerned about kids growing up in a world where a simple swiping motion gets them what they want right away. Whether it be the swipe of a credit card or the swipe of their finger on a touch screen. A simple action, and an instant reward. That’s a huge reason why I’ve taken a vacation from my Smartphone at times. It really helps me to refocus.

    So back to money…

    Here’s how this all relates. From a young age, we are being trained that we don’t have to wait to get stuff. Lost is the notion that you need to save your money before you can purchase something. And is it just me, or are there fewer and fewer barriers to spending money? We all know it’s easier to swipe a card than to use cash. That’s why people tend to spend more using plastic. So I shudder to think about what might happen when we can start to see the effects of technology like ApplePay… you simply wave your phone and the transaction happens like magic? What’s next? Will we only have to simply think about buying something?

    So… Why wait when you can have it now?

    Here’s why. Those who know how to wait and be patient always get something better. Every time. Living a debt-free lifestyle forces you to do this, and if you are living under the crushing weight of debt from credit cards and auto loans, you know that there were many times in your past where had you simply waited to get something, you would have made a better decision.

    As the marshmallow experiment showed, the ability to delay gratification makes you a better person and gives you much greater success and happiness in life.

    Where are we going as a culture, as each successive generation seems less and less able to delay gratification? I think the solution is to not think about the thousands or millions. Focus on yourself and your family. You make the changes in your sphere. You will have to go counter-culture to do it. Lauren and I are living proof that change is possible – that the cycle can be stopped.

    Here are 3 Tips to Survive

    in an Instant Gratification Culture:

    1. Put up as many barriers as possible for purchases. Start using cash. Don’t carry around multiple forms of payment.
    2. Pay your future self first. Imagine you in 20 or 30 years. What decisions would that person have you make today? Would ‘future you’ prefer the brand new $35,000 car, or the used $8,000 car and the extra money towards savings?
    3. Limit the amount of time you’re being marketed to. Watching TV, being in the store, being on the computer, being on your phone – these are all opportunities for marketers to continue to train you, to ask you that question: “But why wait when you can have it now?” To the extent that you can, shut it out. Read a book, hang out with friends. These aren’t just life recommendations, their financial recommendations.

    What are your thoughts? Do you have any tricks to being patient with your money?




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