Overriding Immediate Gratification

azul_price_tag_dressI’m learning through therapy that I struggle with the notion of “delayed gratification.”

As an anxious person, I like things here and now and done yesterday, not tomorrow.

So naturally, given my anxious hardwiring, it’s not always easy for me to, as Dr. G. says, “override immediate gratification” in favor of delayed gratification.

I can do it for some things that focus on the greater good (journaling diligently, exercising, studying, etc) but not for everything (my less-than-stellar spending habits).

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a compulsive person. For me it’s never been about drugs or alcohol or gambling or promiscuity or anything that could do me bodily harm, but I am compulsive in my thoughts. Food and shopping tend to be two ways my compulsion manifests itself. (Talking incessantly (or thinking) is another).

For instance, when I go shopping, I go shopping. (i.e., often a spree — after which, I often feel guilty and march back to said stores, receipts in hand).

I’m getting better at this one in particular, but in the past, if I wanted to buy a plane ticket or big purchase, I tended not to save for it: I’d book it/buy it and pay later. (I should note, my husband is the opposite — he’d prefer to save and then splurge, even though he still would splurge.).

And when I buy a new outfit, I just have to wear it the next day! Same with shoes. Or a bag. Or a magazine.

Remember those new Joe’s jeans I said I would buy when I got back to goal? Ha, that was a short-lived “plan”. (Steph at BISJ had a promotion going with Joe’s and I snagged a new pair — I loooove my Joe’s and couldn’t resist another pair)!

And then there’s food … if I buy a bar of chocolate, I eat a piece immediately … and then (if I haven’t chewed-and-spit) I usually chuck it before I overdose on it in one sitting.

So one of the things Dr. G. is going to be helping me with is discovering ways for me to more efficiently/easily override immediate gratification for delayed gratification when the situation warrants it.

No, that’s not a whole bunch of psychobabble.

What it means is, I am often so caught up in the immediate here and now that
1) I don’t take time to smell the roses (savor the food, the act of browsing (that might not lead to purchase, etc) and
2) I don’t even realize the damage I’m doing to myself (i.e., when I chew-and-spit).

In some food instances I am totally focused on the immediate gratification. Sometimes that’s ok (enjoying a meal out or relishing a long gym session because my muscles feel good); but in excess it can be harmful.

And in other instances, I’m often consumed with the notion of the delayed gratification so much that I miss the beauty of (healthy) instant gratification. Like working out and eating well to stay healthy … not such a bad thing, unless it causes me to miss out on living and enjoying life.

My ability to think of my weight (or grades or work success) in terms of delayed gratification can be a good thing (it keeps me on my toes; I never stray too far off course).

If I could apply it to other aspects of my life, then maybe the instant gratification of shopping/spending/ splurging wouldn’t feel so damn good?

For example, I know a shopping spree isn’t wise; it feels good in the moment and then I have buyer’s remorse (even if I have the money to do it).

The new bag won’t die sitting in my closet for a day.

The chocolate won’t walk away if I don’t eat it in that particular moment.

The truth is, I honestly struggle with this notion of instant gratification. I crave it. Likewise, I long for feedback, positive or negative. I thrive on it (at work, in my personal life, my relationships). If I don’t get some form of it, I feel like something is wrong. I worry. I stress. I obsess.

And when it comes to trigger foods … instant gratification is a total problem there.

Yesterday, I went to Target to look for a cute top for my office holiday party tonight, but found nothing. I remembered Kashi was on sale and as I was snatching up two boxes, I passed the aisle with Chex mix and noticed it, too, was on sale. (Cue dream sequence music).

You see, Chex mix is crack to me. I never liked it until a year ago and ever since … whoa nelly, it’s a trigger.

I debated buying some. I knew it was going to be a problem (it always is) but I told myself I could have one serving of it (3 points) and then I’d toss the bag because I wanted Chex mix NOW … but didn’t want the bag lying around … nor did I need it in the first place.

Where’s the logic in tossing food? These are tough times!! Chucking $4 worth of even a preservative-filled snack food is criminal! But what did I do? I bought two bags (Honey Oat and Cheddar), took a small handful of each and tossed them when I got back to the office. And proceeded to eat a little less of my lunch to compensate for the snack I didn’t need.

I share this story because had I just told myself at the store, “Don’t buy it, you don’t really want it or need it in this moment.” Or, “Save the bag for when you really want to open it, save your money,” maybe I’d have been fine.

But I went with my compulsion — in this case, something salty, Chex mix … and gave into that immediate gratification instead of rationalizing it.

Deep down I knew that the Chex mix wasn’t going to make my day any better. And had I not wasted money on Chex mix, I’d be 3 points richer and $4 richer, too.

So the long and short of it is, I am curious to see what techniques Dr. G. will come up with to help me override immediate gratification more easily, so it becomes second nature versus something deliberate. So I can bypass the Chex mix and not stew about it.

(And then I wonder: why can I turn down some things so easily — alcohol, desserts on occasion, salty appetizers, etc. and not others? Why do my delayed gratification sensors go off sometimes and not all the time?)

In my heart, I know that this struggle with instant gratification is what’s holding me back from re-losing this weight. But this time, compared to other times, I’m willing to wait it out and be patient with myself.

Because in the long run, I’m making myself a better person. Now, or ten pounds from now. And there’s no harm in cultivating the best “me” I can be.

Especially since the “me” I am right now is well-loved, well-educated, well-traveled, well-employed … with a roof over my head and food on the table … and let’s not forget, has cute Joe’s jeans showing off my hard-earned backside.

Sometimes I just need to remind myself, baby didn’t get “back” overnight …

How about you? Do you struggle with immediate gratification? Is that holding you back from reaching any of your personal, financial, physical goals?

18 thoughts on “Overriding Immediate Gratification

  1. I’ve definitely ALWAYS had a problem with immediate gratification. If I want something, I want it now! Whether it’s a book or a candy bar. And I definitely believe that it has held me back in almost all areas of my life at one point or another – from the fact that my financial situation isn’t the best to the fact that I found myself needing to lose over 100 pounds.

  2. I’ve always been that way too! I’ve had to wear new clothes either the day after or even the DAY that I buy them! I’ve worked on combating that by buying a new outfit for an event in the future, and then NOT ALLOWING myself to wear the clothes until THAT EVENT. Then, I have the whole build up of “omg this is gonna look so cute” and then the gratification of actually wearing it.

  3. OH YES I struggle with immediate gratification. And like you, I have gone back so many times to the stores I shopped at only to return whatever I bought. ANd I try almost everything I buy from the grocery store. Its something I really want to break!!

  4. You know, it’s funny…in some ways I need instant gratification; usually on those days, it’s when I binge. I NEED the chocolate/cookie dough immediately…and I often will go far out of my way to get what I want right then and there. However, I don’t think it’s in my nature to be like that. I’ve actually been the opposite – ever since I was little, I hoarded things. πŸ™‚ I wait to wear new shirts (sometimes months!!!), I save up for big purchases, I always save the best (food) for last…it’s interesting, I never before saw a correlation between the days that I binge and the instant gratification.

  5. I’ve had to learn to tell myself that “this is not the last cookie I will ever be able to eat” or “I will come to this restaurant again and be able to order this dish again”, or something similar…because I found myself acting as if the world was going to run out of chocolate chip cookies!! Of course, I’m not always able to have this conversation with myself and resist the urge for immediate gratification, but it’s helped immensely.

  6. yup, eating and shopping are the two things I have problems with regards to instant gratification. Never had any issues with any other “risky behaviors”. I have gotten the shopping part more under control (I used to be credit card queen) and now only buy when I can pay cash and slowly getting better with the eating with help of therapy but I spent all last summer stuck in an “instant gratification” haze where I was eating and eating even though I knew I would a) feel sick and b) regret it when I stepped on the scale. Yet even those two negative things didn’t stop me when I was in a MUST HAVE NOW mindset. And I was not buying the treat and throwing it away after a handful as you did with the Chex! πŸ™‚

  7. Exactly, Auntie! Even my holiday party tonight isn’t the last of the season. Good mentality –hope to remember it.

    Lara, me too — I’m now much better with my CCs!!

  8. “but I told myself I could have one serving of it and then I’d toss the bag because I wanted Chex mix NOW … but didn’t want the bag lying around”

    Haha, that sounds a lot like me πŸ˜›
    I could go to the grocery store, buy a whole bag of something, then toss the rest because i know if i keep it, im gonna binge on it. And if i decide to keep, to not waste it, it’s gonna be in my mind all day… and usually, i end up eating it and feel guilty after.

    My trick? Now, i only buy what i want one day per week. Usually the Sunday. Whatever it is, chocolate cookies, ice cream, chips, etc… i buy it and eat it. And if i dont finish it the same day, it doesnt last more than 2 days. I know its not healthy, i should be able to buy anytime, eat what i want and stop, but the reality isn’t like that. So i have to find a way to deal. So every week, i decide on sunday what I feel like eating, something i usually dont allow myself, and buy it. And most of the time, i feel ok for the rest of the week. Except for PMS time, where i crave everything. πŸ˜›

  9. Yes Yes Yes!!!!!! I’ve been doing weight loss hypnosis and part of that is slowing down my eating. I have been making a practice of taking small bites and chewing my food slowly and also taking long periods of time when I’m eating, trying to taste my food and notice what it feels like in my mouth, notice the texture, taste, the feeling of it digesting in my body. I try to stretch my meals for as long as I can and it’s really been making quite a difference in how I look at food and how I feel around food and the ritual of eating. I used to be more afraid of food. And now I feel less anxious around food, because I have changed my relationship to it. Or at least I’m in the process of doing that.

  10. Yup, thats me. When i was bulimic i wanted to lose weight IMMEDIATELY. Even know, when Im hungry, I need to eat immediately. my counselor told me the same thing- he was like, “did you know people without eating issues dont think like that? when they are hungry they think ‘hey i better eat soon’ instead of ‘feed me now!'” it was such a foriegn idea to me. now I only get a little cranky when Im hungry. just a little πŸ˜‰

    Kelly Turner

  11. Oh, this is SO me!! My first reaction on seeing the new blog entry was “cute dress, I wonder where she got it?” LOL. I am horrible about delaying things, whether it is to buy something to to eat something….definitely a skill set I need practice in!

    But I still can’t resist asking, is that the dress you are wearing to your work gig tonight? πŸ™‚

  12. Lila, hypnosis sounds fascinating!

    Nikita, PMS time for me is now — Tues. begins the monthly guest. UGH.

    LOL Yas — no way, that’s a dress made of PRICE TAGS! I found the image online πŸ™‚

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