Delayed Gratification is Good for the Soul

“Delayed gratification is good for the soul.”

One of my college friends said that frequently, and I took it to heart, saying it even more frequently during my four years of undergrad. So frequently, in fact, that one of my best friends was pretty done with the phrase at one point: “If I hear that one more time…”

I have ascribed to this philosophy for most of my adult life, but it seems in recent years I’ve had more trouble remembering it at all.

I blame social media and smartphones to some extent. They made instant gratification so easy. That little dopamine rush of having a notification (and the sinking feeling when I realize it’s only someone posting to a group I follow) keeps me coming back for more, until I personally am unable to have even the slightest hint of hardship or boredom without seeking another one.

WIRED THAT WAY

My husband is currently in love with a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. He’s been listening to the audiobook of it habitually (heyyyyy), and I’ve had the opportunity to hear snippets of a few chapters. In one, Clear talks about how instant gratification is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Though most of the things that matter most in life require waiting for gratification in some sense (a college degree, a healthy body, affording retirement, a fulfilling and committed relationship, raising children), our challenge is that our brains still seek instant gratification. It’s easy to jack up our real happiness by settling for the short-term knockoff.

So I guess it’s not all my smartphone’s fault, after all. (But you’re still not helping, you hear me, Siri?)

In contrast, my last blog post was (partially) about how long it took Tolkien to write Lord of the Rings. I also recall a student paper, one of my favorites, about William Wilberforce. I hadn’t studied him, so I didn’t know before this student’s essay that Wilberforce got word of the success of his life’s labor—the abolition of slavery—only a few days before he died.

It certainly took some grit to keep pressing on when circumstances, people, and time kept pushing back at these men. It may have been easier to give in to the temptation of instant gratification (and I am sure that sometimes they did). But it was the delayed gratification that was really worth working toward.

AND A PERSONAL APPLICATION

I love blogging. I LOVE it. Writing down what I’ve already been thinking of finally gets it out of my head’s whirling rotation, solidifies it, and helps me figure out why certain things have grabbed me so. I hope it sometimes proves helpful to others, as well. Your support—your likes, your shares, your comments—mean the world to me. I’m writing essays, but now it’s for more than just one teacher giving me an A: now it might actually encourage one of my friends!

Yet I also want to write a book. I’ve been writing unpublishable material since high school, but I truly believe I have something worth working on now.

My blog posts, I think, have become my instant gratification: I get an almost-guaranteed dose of weekly likes and attention, small though my blog may be in the grand scheme of Internet things. My book is my delayed gratification: only my husband sees the nascent chapters, and he doesn’t always like the revisions I make. (I went to bed fairly grumpy with him over a recent response just last week.)

It takes me one to three hours a week to hammer out a blog post, find an image for it, format it properly, and tag it with its little categories and search terms. I LOVE doing this. But that is one to three hours a week I could be writing a book. With three kids five and under in this house, cleaning and grocery shopping and budgeting and lesson planning and now preparing our own family’s home school curricula to do, sometimes one to three hours a week is all I have to write. Should I spend them on the instant gratification blog post, or on the long-term passion project that is deep in my heart?

A LOFTY GOAL

I’ve realized this year that many of my problems in life come from my desire to be limitless: an impossible and infuriating goal for a finite creature such as myself. All the caffeine and motivational memes in the world can’t force all the progress I want to make. I need to be more selective with my goals.

So I’ve set myself a goal, and it’s still a somewhat aggressive and scary one. I want a new draft of my book (which of course is ending up a re-write, isn’t that always how it happens?) by the end of this summer. I’ll have to put in a lot of hours to accomplish my goal.

So for this summer, I am cutting back significantly (not stopping!) on blogging. I’m going to write one blog post for June, one for July, and one for August. If some thought really takes hold of me, I will probably go ahead and write another blog post. It’s my blog; I can write if I want to.

But in general, I’ll be holding back. If I want to write a book, I need to give it some focused time. I need to delay my gratification. I can’t do all the things—but please pray for me, that I will do the right things well.

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