The Immediate Gratification Trap


Life is a journey, not a destination  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Immediate gratification is one of those guilty pleasures that many engage in, but almost everyone despises. In its best form, immediate gratification is a warm smile, a seat given up by a stranger or a big hug from a close friend or family member before you knew you even needed it. In its worst form, it's teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse or senseless violence.

According to a study written by Cornell University and University of California, Berkeley entitled The Economics of Immediate Gratification:

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People have self-control problems: We pursue immediate gratification in a way that we ourselves do not appreciate in the long run.

Immediate gratification is like the trashy magazine or candy bar at the check-out counter. No one sees you parading ‘it’ around, you just grab it, pay for it and slip it into your grocery bag, purse or pocket. It’s so fast that it’s almost like it didn’t happen.

It is no surprise that trashy magazines and junk food are named this way and are placed that way. Marketing experts know exactly the role that self-control plays in purchasing decisions. If you think the supermarket does a great job, look at society’s media complex.

Almost anything worth accomplishing can be mastered in just 4 hours a day. Six-pack abs? Even less time per day. Healthy food? Grab a 12 oz can of veggie-fruit-juice or make that 4 hour energy drink even more efficient and let it wash down all your vitamins by just popping one pill.

Today, social attitudes suggest that any wanton desire should be accomplished ‘right now’.  In such a scenario we’d never be able to sate the current desire before the next one demanded our attention. The beast of ‘now’ is insatiable.

And what are we rushing towards in each of these moments? Completion. Now I understand the speed of completion when it comes to dirty laundry and dirty dishes, but the irony is many of us procrastinate on things we need to do and replace it with distractions that we want to do.

Placing too much energy into immediately gratifying distractions robs us of the energy needed for important tasks that take effort and concentration. In addition, it robs us of the opportunity it takes to build real character.

Meanwhile, technology is supposed to help us organize and leverage our productivity. But if the number of ‘Candy Crush’ invites is any indication, I’d say it often dilutes productivity.

Technology can also warp our sense of time as well as our sense of knowledge. The speed of technology gives us a dangerous cocktail of a) the illusion of more time and b) the real access to more amazing things to distract us ‘right now!’

Because technology is developing faster than human genetics, people frequently allow themselves to be dragged into ‘keeping up’ with the demands of technology rather than taking control of it. Social media, infotainment and the latest scandal fill our seemingly bottomless brains, but what does all of that mental junk food do for us?

Mainly, it shows how ‘blessed’, how awesome, and how much of an outlier everyone else has become. This last example is the most important. When the average person, who puts little effort into an experience, thinks they are capable of accomplishing the extraordinary in a short period of time, they cheapen the extraordinary. And when they don’t achieve instant results, they rarely challenge the method and simply move on to the ‘next best thing’.

Eventually, they claim the extraordinary is too easy or beneath them to even try. In young children it can become about taking and getting rather than earning or deserving. If this happens on a mass scale, we may suddenly find ourselves living in an environment totally devoid of the extraordinary.

In order to establish long-term success, long-term relationships and deeply gratifying lives, we need to develop and maintain good habits. Hard work, perseverance and patience are more likely to pave the road towards extraordinary achievement.


Packing Light: "Light extinguishes dark and knowledge extinguishes fear."

This column shares the writing of Darren DeMarco, owner and teacher of karate and self defense at White Tiger Dojo.

About the Author: Darren DeMarco's life work has been teaching karate and self defense. He opened White Tiger Dojo in Berkeley Heights, teaching a traditional style of Okinawan Karate called Isshin Kempo. Today, they use these same martial principles to teach people how to defend themselves in the modern world.

White Tiger Dojo located at 99 Industrial Road, Berkeley Heights, NJ. Contact (908)665-8983 or email

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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