Let’s face it: We’ve all become hooked on instant gratification. If we don’t feel a sense of payoff right away, we just move on to the next thing—and that’s impacting everything from our love lives to our careers.
But how did we get here? Clinical psychologist Suzana E. Flores, author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives, blames technology and social media. And the younger you are, the more susceptible you are to the lure of instant gratification.
“The millennial generation grew up on a whole lot of technology, more so than other generations, and they feel the fallout of that,” she says. “But most of us are becoming less comfortable with delayed gratification.”
According to a Pew Research Center survey, 60% of 18- to 34-year-olds sleep next to their phones, and more than three-quarters check their phone for missed calls or texts, even when they haven’t heard a ping.
Push notifications are also feeding into our need for instant feedback. “They trigger the same areas of the brain as food and sex, so we’re getting dopamine hits as soon as we, say, get a like on social media,” says Flores. The more we get those dopamine hits, the more we crave it, she says, which leaves us always wanting more and more pleasure.
“It’s bleeding into a lot of other areas of our lives, like romantic interactions,” says Flores. Thanks to how hooked we’ve become on instant gratification, we want to immediately feel an intense connection on a first date or resolve an argument with a significant other right away; otherwise, things just feel off.
It’s not just romantic relationships that are impacted, either. Flores says friendships are feeling the heat, too. If you have a boring night with a friend or have silent pauses during a long conversation—which happens no matter how great your connection—you’re more likely to not want to spend as much time with that person. And it’s all because we’re losing the ability to feel uncomfortable, says Flores.
Silence in particular is hard for us to take. Flores has conducted a lot of focus groups and found that we’re becoming less comfortable with any level of silence. That’s why we often prefer to text over picking up the phone, she says: “At least with a text, you can assume someone got busy [if they don’t respond right away].”
It’s not our fault, Flores says, we’ve simply been programmed this way over time. But that can lead to bad decision-making and attention-deficit problems, among other issues.
Luckily, you can train yourself to think differently.
In addition to putting away your phone more often and logging off of social media regularly, Flores recommends that you start setting longer-term goals—and actually follow through with them. If you want to lose weight, for example, take a beat and think about the things that are likely to trip you up in the short term. For example, if your coworkers bring in junk food to share with the group all the time, decide in advance that you’re not going to indulge the next time it happens.
You can also create visual reminders of your goals, says Flores. If you want to save up to take an amazing vacation, put up pictures of your dream destination around your place and in your wallet to help you stay focused.
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Treating yourself as you work toward your goal is another effective method since Flores says you don’t want to deprive yourself completely. Just make it somehow related to your goal, like buying cute new workout gear while you’re training for a marathon.
That said, you’re probably going to mess up…and that’s OK. “If you fall off the wagon, just get back on,” says Flores. “We’re all human, and wanting instant gratification is a human trait—it’s just how often we give into it that matters.”