Impulsivity and poor decision-making is often due to a feeling or belief that you must have what you want RIGHT NOW.
Delaying gratification does not mean that you will not get what you want. Getting what you want is a very important thing in life.
Delaying gratification means taking a look at:
1) MUST you have what you want? Is it a NEED? OR, is it a PREFERENCE? Is it something you WANT? We have a right to want things.
2) Is it something that MUST happen RIGHT AWAY? OR, is it something that you might have in a more solid way if you planned ahead and pursued it in a more thoughtful manner?
Planning ahead is the twin of delaying gratification.
Oftentimes, getting what we really want is not possible on the spur of the moment. We tend to accept poor substitutes which have no lasting value or are actually destructive to us. Again, getting what we want is important, but some things must be gained step-by-step. Although we might not get what we want RIGHT AWAY, when we take planful steps toward what we want, every step takes us closer. We do not choose to do NOTHING if we can't have what we want right away, we take the step that is right in front of us today. This is a good and worthwhile way to pass the time while waiting for the steps you're taking to get you even closer to your goals.
Why people have a hard time delaying gratification
Some people have had experiences in which they could not count on their needs to be met on a regular basis. Some of these experiences may have occurred in adulthood. Some of these experiences may have occurred while growing up. The unmet needs may have been food and shelter. The unmet needs may have been emotional.
When our basic needs are not met on a fairly regular basis, we learn that the things we need are scarce or hard to get. Therefore, when we see an opportunity to get our needs met, we do so in a way that a very hungry person eats food. They eat whenever they can, as much as they can, as if they may never eat again. This happens on an emotional level as well. When we see an opportunity to feel good, we take it. Even if it will make us feel worse later. When we have an opportunity to be approved of, we take it. Even if it requires us to do things we are not comfortable doing. If we see an opportunity to protect ourselves, we take it. Even if it means closing ourselves off to healthy relationships.
People make short-sighted decisions when they feel desperate. Delaying gratification helps us to make sure that we won't make matters worse out of desperation. Planning ahead helps us to see that our lives are being put into order, that we are taking steps, that we need not feel desperate.
Examples of real life things that CANNOT happen RIGHT AWAY are growing a garden, recovering from the flu, learning a musical instrument, completing a worthwhile class, developing a good and healthy relationship. At the same time, these things CAN happen. We must ask, "What is the step that I can take now toward these planful, thought-out and worthwhile things that I want for myself?"