We live in an era of fast food, instant meals, same-day delivery, information overload and pressure to always stay connected. As a result, we are slowly losing our ability to be patient. According to research, 5% of mobile internet users will leave a webpage if it does not load within 3 seconds. We have come to expect everything immediately that when we have to wait just a few seconds, we lose interest and move on to something else.
The prioritisation of quick wins over delayed gratification is called any-benefit mindset. Sadly, it’s a mindset many people have already cultivated without being aware of it. If you watch tv endlessly, browse social media without knowing why and keep refreshing your timeline so you can read new posts, you may be a victim.
It’s easier to mindlessly surf the net all day than to do meaningful work. This is because mindless surfing offers instant gratification. It makes you feel good and can even create the illusion of you having done something important. Over time, this decreases your ability to focus on tasks that don’t pay off immediately. You might know the task is important but your brain will keep asking where is the reward? I want it now.
Research conducted at Stanford showed that children who could delay gratification were more likely to grow up to become successful adults. They scored higher in exams, were less likely to do drugs and developed better mechanisms for dealing with stress.
Did you blink? I know I did the first time I read that. The effect seemed almost outrageous compared to the cause but think about it. A teenager who is able to delay gratification is more likely to study on the weekend before an important test than go out partying. They are also more likely to realise the longterm effects of substance abuse and resist peer pressure. They are more likely to have goals and come up with a plan. In short, they can sit down and do the work required knowing it won’t pay off now but will surely do later. Those teenagers are also more likely to become adults that can block out time to work on important projects, prioritise tasks, set goals and meet deadlines. In other words, they grow up to become what we call productive people.
The next time you feel tempted to sneak a one hour Social Media break instead of working, ask yourself if the reward is worth it.