Delaying instant gratification
May 25, 2014 8:21 AM   Subscribe

How do ignore cravings or ideas that seem urgent and focus on the task at hand?

There's a very similar question on askmefi but I didn't really find anything which worked for me. What are some ways to delay instant gratification and ignoring your urgent immediate ideas and cravings? I struggle with this mostly in my work and my binge eating. How do you focus on what you want most (in the long term) when what you want NOW seems so loud and urgent?
posted by dinosaurprincess to Human Relations (10 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
What works for me isn't to immediately focus on the long-term goal. Rather, it's to become grounded in the moment, through paying attention to my breath or other bodily sensations. Once I've done that, it's easier to become aware of the craving as just a craving, and to experience the ability to choose.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:40 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have ADD so Adderall helps a lot. I also write distracting thoughts/ideas down so I can come back to them later.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:03 AM on May 25, 2014

I find that being busy helps a lot-- when I give in to cravings, it's usually at that brief moment of aimlessness between tasks, when it's very easy to be all, "Maybe just one cookie before I get started writing this report..." Of course, it's easiest to do that when you have a life that naturally contains a lot of immediate, externally-imposed tasks. But I've always thought that a nice granular to-do list would be useful, too (admittedly, still working on putting that into practice, myself!).
posted by Bardolph at 9:15 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I tell myself I can do the fun thing after I've done X amount of the duty thing. (Example: I won't let myself visit MetaFilter in the morning until I've done at least ten pages of editing.) Works for me, but YMMV.
posted by languagehat at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is an interesting post about delaying gratification, specific to people who have addictions, into which I'd suggest binge eating falls.
posted by VioletU at 10:06 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Binge eating and work procrastination usually come from self-protection mechanisms due to being hurt in the past.

For example, some parents put pressure on their middle-school daughters to stay thin. The feeling of inadequacy leads the daughters to starve and binge. Another example is parents who make their kids feel inadequate at school or athletics. Those kids may grow up to procrastinate at work or avoid exercise because it brings up shame.

Usually you have to figure out the source of the issue (through therapy) and work through it.
posted by cheesecake at 10:33 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hmm. There are many experts, but the one I've found most accessible is Piers Steel, and his book, The Procrastination Equation.

The factor analysis of personality that is the Big Five personality traits comes in: the operational definition that he and a lot of other people use is a deficit in conscientiousness: that is, conscientious people tend to have less procrastination. This is subject to the many statistical problems with factor analysis in the abstract and that factor analysis in the concrete, but it's something to think about.

The meta-analysis that Steel did for the nature of procrastination is also a good read, reasonably accessible to the layman as long as you completely ignore all the statistics. But the positioning is procrastination as a concrete instance of the abstract principle of self-regulatory failure. Baumeister has his book (and a big part of his career) on that, but Baumeister is Baumeister: he was the one who popped the self-esteem bubble in psychology, but he has some ideas that you might not like. In either case, his book, Willpower, should be read, if critically. Neo-Victorian, that man.

Gollwitzer's implementation intentions should be investigated as a practicable procedure that you can do to help achieve goals in the abstract: actually, they're just a fairly great format for the definition of goals.

I think Dweck's theoretical mechanism for her mindset theory has a lot about the akrasia-like self-regulatory failures which might be parts of the chain of causation for how people with fixed mindsets often fall towards inaction. Certainly, give her book a read.

Steel, and all the others, will mention habit as a specific organizational strategy that will destroy the possibility of procrastination: Baumeister has some great anecdotes about Henry Morton Stanley that you should probably look closer into than the book suggests. I don't like the habit literature. The few papers I've liked are from Phillippa Lally, who doesn't have a layman's book out: read this instead, and the discussion section of this.

There are no pre-requisites for really any of the readings I suggested, and they all reference each other. A lot. An incredible amount. Basically a few things are known, like how a fixed mindset is bad and how self-regulation gets depleted through usage, and these few things are repeated over and over and over again.
posted by curuinor at 9:01 PM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Generally, the layman's understanding of this is both good and bad at the same time. I mean, the phenomenon of self-regulatory failure was not really first noted in Baumeister and that field's seminal papers: it was noted by Marcus Aurelius, it was noted by Jesus, it was noted by Socrates. The addition that modern science seems to me to really be falsification. For example, Steel has never found a correlation between procrastination and perfectionism. Never. It's worth it to look for those falsifications whereever you look.

Baumeister has a reasonably accessible narrative review on self-regulation failure. He has another book, an older one that isn't pretty much ghostwritten like his Willpower book is.

Rachlin has a book out that's interesting and more mathematical and more based upon the new spiffy behavioral economics, if you lean that way. He also defends behaviorism, take that as you will
posted by curuinor at 9:11 PM on May 25, 2014

Actually, now that I think about it, direct linking to those papers might not be kosher. In which case, you don't need to read them, since the books I mentioned mostly summarize them.
posted by curuinor at 9:18 PM on May 25, 2014

Do something else.

Say you get an urge to eat a big greasy plate of garlic fingers. Eat something different instead, something you consider better than the garlic fingers.

Say you get an urge to yell at your boss. Get up and walk down the hall and do some photocopying. But get moving, don't just sit and try to stop yourself from yelling at your boss. Get some exercise by moving briskly. Burn off some of that physical urge to leap up.

Say you get an urge to down a big gulp high caffeine soda. Have a cup of tea which is low caffeine. That way you get some of the caffeine you are craving but don't just down three Red Bulls in quick succession.

When you get an urge to binge eat or do anything else to extremes you are getting a signal that you need to meet a need. The idea is to work on meeting that need but not in a way that makes things worse. The fact is low blood sugar or emotional neediness triger the binges and telling yourself to ignore low bloods sugar or neediness does nothing to look after you, it just adds deprivation.

The trick is to notice before your neediness goes off the charts and nothing but desperate gobbling will fill the gap. Eat preemptively, smaller quantities, healthy stuff, or stuff you are not ashamed of eating.

It is probably better for you to eat a decent bunch of raw veggies and the cheese garlic fingers, rather than the cheese garlic fingers alone. You may be eating more but the additional good food will increase your vitamins and fibre intake and might just result ine ating less garlic fingers.

It's the same way for ideas. If you are suddenly compelled to drop everything for an idea there is likely to be something building up intensity in the background. Maybe it is anxiety, or anger, or something. Try to figure out why the idea grabs you so strongly and then backtrack and deal with the want behind the overwhelming feeling.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:48 AM on May 26, 2014

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