The media is full of advice on how to live a healthy lifestyle, and unless you’ve been living in a very remote part of the world, the collective obsession with health can’t have escaped your notice. What’s interesting is that despite the warnings of what can happen if you don’t look after yourself, people still eat high-calorie diets, and engage in harmful behaviors like smoking, taking drugs, and excessive alcohol consumption. The way so many people struggle with diets is a good indication of how hard it can be to do what’s best for your body, and the increasing rates of stress-related illness are an example of the same effect on mental health. Why is it so hard to do what’s good for you?
It’s all about gratification
The psychological influence of gratification is what lies behind this difficulty with adopting healthy behaviors. Humans are naturally drawn to the concept of instant gratification, that is receiving a reward for an action immediately rather than having to wait. Many scientific studies have shown that most people will choose the instant reward over one promised for the future. Offer someone one hundred dollars now, or say that if they wait two weeks, they can get one hundred and fifty dollars, and most will choose to take the cash now, rather than hold off for a higher sum. Studies of children have shown they are even more driven by instant rewards, so as adults we do learn to resist this impulse to some degree – some more successfully than others.
Why health is all about delayed gratification
Your brain understands there will be multiple benefits from adopting a healthy lifestyle, but the fact is that none of the positive effects will be felt immediately. If you consider diet and exercise, you may be fully aware that being overweight can lead to serious health problems, as well as making life more of a struggle. However, you can see a future of feeling hungry, getting tired and sweaty at the gym, and having to deny yourself any treats for months to come. Compare that to the satisfaction and pleasure of eating a sticky bun while you relax on the couch having a box set marathon. Even though you know you’ll feel far better for making the effort to exercise and eat less, there is no immediate reward involved. Relaxing with a food treat and escaping into a fantasy world for a few hours ticks a lot of pleasure boxes though, and that’s why doing what’s best for your health is so hard.
Introducing the element of instant gratification to your health plan
Despite what you may think, you do have a level of self-control, and as many fit and healthy people can demonstrate, it is possible to overcome the draw of instant gratification to gain benefits in the future. Your degree of self-control will depend to a large extent on your psychological make-up, including self-esteem, the effect of existing health problems, and the events in your life to date that have shaped your views. That means that there is no one size fits all solution to overcoming the problem of gratification perception. There are however some tricks you can try to see what works for you. You could, for example, try adding some aspects of instant gratification to your health plan. Some coaches dismiss the idea of using a reward system for yourself, because it’s better to retrain your brain rather than using a simplistic kind of approach. This is all well and good in an ideal world, but for a lot of folks, anything that helps to give them motivation is a good thing. If you think rewards could work for you, you can always start this way, and then reduce the reward element as you get used to and start enjoying your new habits. The principle is straightforward enough: every time you achieve a goal on your healthy living plan, you give yourself a little treat.
Obviously, it’s better not to use sweets as your reward if you’re trying to lose weight!
Things to try would be a half-hour rest with a magazine or a good book; buying yourself a new music download or renting a film; or calling a friend for a chat. When it comes to substance abuse, the effects of taking drugs can be amongst the most harmful of any unhealthy activities. Unfortunately, drug addiction is also one of the hardest habits to break. That is why rehabilitation services use methadone treatment for people in their care. They understand that quitting the highly dangerous use of heroin can be very difficult indeed, but by using programs like methadone maintenance in California, they can help addicts wean themselves off the heroin by giving them access to a substitute that helps satisfy their cravings.
Making life easier for yourself
Part of the problem of following a healthy diet or exercise plan is the faff of counting calories or working out how many stomach curls you need to do each session. If this is something that puts you off making the effort to live more healthily, see if there are some options that will make the process easier for you. There are some diet schemes that provide all your meals for you, so you don’t need to worry about counting calories or working out portion sizes, making it less of a chore to stick to your diet. If you can afford a personal trainer, they will be able to design an exercise plan that suits you, increasing your enjoyment of exercising and helping you stay on track. If you do have food-based rewards, make them healthier options that are still items you like to eat, like fruit, or vegetable sticks. For drug, alcohol, and tobacco addiction, getting help from organizations that understand the problems you face in quitting is the best approach to take.
How many times have you heard yourself or other people say they know they need to take action to improve their health, and will start tomorrow? It’s a lot easier to think to yourself that you’ll be ready to start the next day, but that next day mentality can push you on for literally years. Once you understand what drives you to ignore the importance of delayed gratification, you’ll find it easier to learn methods of getting around these psychological obstacles. There is sure to be a method, or combination of tricks you can use, to get past the need for instant gratification, so don’t despair – the answer is out there somewhere.