Today’s society is addicted to instant gratification. This desire to indulge in short-term pleasures is so strong that many are sacrificing their long-term health, and personal goals, to satisfy it.
Despite the low value that some of these instant pleasures (like fast food or soft drinks) have, the certainty of them and their ability to satisfy an urge immediately, make them significantly more appealing than something which requires patience (like seeing physical progress).
Over the years, the internet and modern technology has taken much of the blame for this need for instant gratification but it’s actually part of our human programming, once necessary for survival.
Millions of years ago when the human species were living in caves, and running from sabre-tooth tigers, life was about survival. This included eating whenever possible since the certainty of the next meal was not always there. Cavemen didn’t really have long term goals…
However, today, our futures are considerably more secure and our next meal almost a certainty.
So, how do we combat this instinct and make our long-term health the priority?
A recent study which analysed the brain activity of adults while they chose between short-term (less valuable pleasures) and long-term rewards, showed that the few who picked the greater, long-term rewards, had significantly more activity in their anterior prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain that thinks about the future.
Building your ideal future before being tempted by anything is going to make drawing on it much easier at the time. In order to outweigh the temptations, which are at an advantage due to our coding, you need to think BIG.
So let’s build your ideal future.
Go through the questions below and answer them in as much personal detail as possible. Get a pen and paper and write them down, having something visual and tangible can make this process that much more powerful.
What does a healthier lifestyle look like for you physically?
What does it look like for your strength?
For your stamina?
For your fitness and body shape?
And don't forget the non-physical
What would a healthier lifestyle mean for you emotionally and mentally?
What would it mean for your confidence and sense of self-worth?
What would it mean for your personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of your relationships?
What would it mean for your social life?
For your career?
For your general happiness?
Envision this future. Visualise scenarios that would be possible within this future. What does that feel like? Connect with the positive sensations this creates in your body. Turning thoughts into feelings is the best way to actually connect with thoughts and put them into practice. We can all think we want to be healthier but until there is a feeling for it, an actual emotional driver, the chances of the thought motivating us is slim.
Creating a feeling in your body that encompasses the goal you want for yourself, and drawing on it, will allow you to value your long-term health above your impulses and motivate you to achieve your goals.
So, next time you see that bottle of sugar-filled soft drink, or glazed donut, instead of just thinking “I shouldn’t have that” try drawing on the feeling of being fit and healthy, the feeling of chasing after your kids, being able to run a marathon, or fitting into those old skinny jeans.
These feelings of empowerment and achievement are going to be considerably more effective than your “I shouldn’t…” thoughts.
Like anything, practice makes perfect and initially conjuring up these feelings, and all the scenarios you have imagined, will need to be done on a conscious level. You will need to remind yourself to do it before the temptation gets the better of you. However, as time passes, this will become a habit, allowing you to create and live a healthier life without even realising it.
by Isabel Fenwick