It could be argued that the topics I’ve explored over the last several months (you can read them here, here, and here), were a bit directed at AIP long-termers, folks who have been walking the path for a while and who are ready to expand their horizons. Today I wanted to step back a bit and talk about something that applies to us all, but can be especially helpful when first starting . . . learning to delay gratification.
Instant gratification is the name of the game these days. We don’t have to wait for a phone call, because we carry our Apple phones with us. Dominos can deliver dinner and we don’t even have to talk to a human; it can be ordered on-line. We never have to go the library and research that thing we want to learn about, because we have Google at our fingertips. In the near future we might even get our latest package from Amazon delivered to our door, via a drone, in less than 30 minutes. (Uh? What next? Will Amazon hire clairvoyants and send us junk before we even knew we wanted it?) These are such familiar, entrenched examples of instant gratification that it’s almost irrelevant to point them out.
What if, in our quest for better health, we just naturally lean toward the “App-Dom-Goo-Azon Standard” of healing? (“App-Dom-Goo-Azon?” Naturally, this refers to the Apple, Dominos, Google, Amazon level of promptness.) What if instant gratification is so ingrained, we don’t even realize we’re expecting it to apply to everything in our lives, even healing?
“I’ve been following the autoimmune protocol for awhile now, Ethel, and I’m totally not seeing results.”
“Really? That stinks! How long have you been at it?”
“It’s Tuesday afternoon, Ida.”
Following AIP for a couple of days, no matter how intensely we did it, is not going to yield results. Reversing years of illness cannot be done in milliseconds simply by Googling it. When restoring our good health is the objective, the gratification, the reward, comes gradually.
I think, probably one of the most important parts of the healing process is learning how to delay that gratification. Here’s the hard part though . . . it sucks! Not a really mind-blowing statement. It’s not like you get text messages from your friends confirming how gratifying it is to hold-off on momentary pleasures, “Great morning so far! I just loooove not having an extra yummy latte and chocolate-filled croissant before heading to the office.” or “Awesome weekend! I didn’t buy a new pair of shoes and I didn’t have a glass of wine.” Everyone knows that it’s really difficult not to have that latte and croissant and it can feel oppressive in the moments when you’re resisting that glass of wine. Plus, sometimes there are factors (hint: it’s stress) that can prevent us from being able to delay the reward. Literally the dopamine release from buying that pair of shoes (instead of waiting and feeling even better when we buy them with cash we saved) feels necessary because we are living with such an extreme level of stress. Wrapping our minds around the future pay-off isn’t easy.
So, how do we unlearn the expectation of instant gratification and honor our body’s time line? After I cruised around the web researching this, I noticed a recurring theme in the answers and the more I thought about it, I realized in hindsight they were pretty true of my own experience. I didn’t start out serenely awaiting the reward of wellness. My desires were more like, “Now! Dang it!” However, as time went on I started to take some of the following recommended steps and it really did help me learn to delay gratification:
- Choose what you want most. This involves two things, determining what you value (define) and assigning it a position relative to the other things you value (prioritize). For instance, if you’ve defined “good health” as something you value highly, it might mean it gets priority over “hard work, “ even if “hard work” gets you the more immediate reward of the boss’s praise. Knowing what you want most helps you stay focused, especially when it means choosing between what might be worthy but competing values (like the above example).
- Have a plan. Healing doesn’t just materialize (this isn’t Amazon delivery!). Start at what you want most and figure out what it will take to get there. If you want to have good health and you know AIP-compliant home cooked meals will help, plan a menu and dedicate time to prep. Having a plan helps you stay focused, especially when it feels like your time could be spent on something more fun or easy.
- Manage stress. If your stress is high enough, your system will tirelessly seek relief. We need pressure valves in life. If we don’t find positive outlets, we will be powerless when presented with negative ones. Keeping your stress low, keeps your will power high.
- Celebrate. Too often we delay gratification, work hard, reach a goal and then . . . just keep going. Ignoring all those lattes and then realizing three months later that for the first time in years your joints no longer hurt is reason to celebrate. Taking the time to acknowledge your efforts helps you see the value in that big long-term pay-off.
Basically, it comes down to the old saying, “Don’t give up what you want most, for what you want now.”
BTW, want to learn something REALLY interesting about how much more successful people are when they are able to delay gratification? Click here to read about the 40-year “Marshmallow Experiment.”