Continuing to look at DG from a health perspective.....
Let’s say you’re out for a movie and you consume the popcorn, nachos, cola and muffins available. You’re also missing your workout for the day since the movie timing clashes with it. This is ‘right now’ behaviour where the objective is the food. Instead, make the movie the reward, not the food. By planning in advance (because 99% of food available outside is unhealthy) –maybe pack salad veggies, oil-free khakras, homemade low fat popcorn and some fruits – you have not only prepared healthy snacks but by eating several low calorie and healthy snacks, you don’t feel like you’re ‘sacrificing’ or ‘missing out’. Finish your work out earlier, even if it’s for half the duration, so that you walk into the theatre knowing you earned it. This is one example of how delayed gratification can be implemented.
What if you’ve just been diagnosed with Diabetes and you have a “sweet tooth” (there is no such thing really – it’s just an addiction to the sweet taste). Staying away from sugary foods, watching your carbohydrate intake, cutting out the rest of the junk because you have a higher tendency to develop heart disease too and exercising to lose that excess flab around your midriff – are some of the things it will take to live a healthy life with minimal if not nil medication.
Here’s where context becomes all important. I said earlier ‘These kids held the bigger reward to be more important than immediate gratification’ – What does being healthy for life really look like? Limitless energy, being productive and accomplishing what you want and need to on a daily basis? No hospital stays and therefore having more money available (since you’re not spending on meds or doctor consultations)? Having more of those ‘Kodak moments’ with your family and smiling a lot because you feel confident, strong and powerful? Wearing whatever clothes you like without having to hide aspects of your physique that you’re not happy with? Being happy in your own skin, knowing that you are truly ‘healthy’? Find a compelling ‘reason’ to commit to the long haul and keep reminding yourself of it.
Coming back to your children, start giving them tests of patience. Give them regular pocket money and create a game around saving up to buy something they really want. Important: don’t forbid / restrict / ban anything – they’ll end up wanting it more. Also, never (notice I just banned it – does that make you want to do it?) use food or treats as bribes or rewards– ever! Educate them on why it’s not good to have unhealthy food often – let them know that they definitely will get a treat once in a fortnight or a month and have them wait for it. This takes time and patience on your part as well.
Here’s the good news. If you or your child hasn’t fully developed the ability to defer gratification, you can always start practising it anytime. Whatever age you start, you can still be a master at this skill and your world view will start to shift. Science says habits are so difficult to break because doing something repeatedly develops response pathways in the brain so that you become efficient at it. Changing these neural pathways is tough but you can override them and create new pathways. Simply put, you can train your brain to delay gratification. Here are some exercises to do:
1] Take one area of life daily where you can practise this – a clue would be to see where you lose your patience easily.
2] Observe your children – you can perform your own version of the ‘marshmallow test’ if they’re young. Research this topic online and see how you can instil discipline and patience in them.
3] Observe how you react to your impulses - take a deep breath and ask yourself whether it is a 'want' or an actual need. If it is just a wish, examine the probable consequences and determine whether giving in is really worth it.
4] Set clear long term and short term goals that really matter to you.
5] In accordance with these, create hourly or daily to-do lists. After accomplishing each item – acknowledge yourself. Appreciating and accepting yourself positively reinforces this practice.
6] Visualize clearly the benefits and positive experiences that come from accomplishing these goals.
7] Keep a journal / diary and track your progress – it can capture your to-do lists as well as capture your successes that day.
8] Meditate – observe your own inner dialogue and how it sometimes is your inner enemy.
Having said all this, I feel the need to define what deferred gratification IS NOT. It is not depriving yourself of the simple joys of life to the extent you are too watchful, cautious or defer every pleasure or experience for later. That extreme is called ‘stress’. That vacation or family time together is required – work for it. It is not sacrificing anything. Take the time to smell the roses and give in to the odd harmless impulse. It is also definitely not a reason to procrastinate or delay taking action to accomplish something that needs to be done now. You’ve got to strike a balance between living in the moment, enjoying your life, taking decisive action right now, and still positively planning for the future.