Since I can remember I have always been an extremely impulsive person. Even before my diagnosis of Bipolar. I would spend large amounts of money without even a drop of perspiration or a sense of regret. I took diet pills in hopes to shed large amounts of weight as fast as possible (I was not overweight). I would do ridiculous detoxes that had me drinking a lemon tea cocktail 6-8 times a day with absolutely no food for 7-10 days. I would erupt and punch holes in walls, break glasses, break countless phones on any immediate aggravating situation. I got heavily into hard drugs for a quick high. If my prescription drugs didn’t work in 1-2 days I immediately wrote them off and stopped talking them. I’m training for a marathon and parts of me want to just got out there and run 42km now. Everything in my life has been about a “quick fix.” I want to be skinny today. I want to feel happy today. I want to be rich today. I want to have nice things today. I want to deal with a situation immediately. I want to feel better today. I want to run a marathon today. I want to be this huge success story today.
My late therapist caught on to this constant need for immediate gratification, as he called it, and attempted to work on it with me. He would always say “Have you ever tried delaying your gratification.” And I would sarcastically respond, of course John, I can wait from picking up my pita to getting home before I eat it. And he would laugh. Not quite what he was referring to, but I was young and naïve and I mean who wouldn’t want to feel good immediately? Patience is a virtue and I have absolutely 0 of that.
There was a study done by Walter Mischel at Stanford University with a series of 4-year-old children. The children were given the choice of 1 or 2 marshmallows, 1 marshmallow immediately or if they waited 15 minutes they could receive the 2. It has since been referred to as the marshmallow experiment. Researchers have since followed the development of all of the children into adolescence and found that those who were able to delay their gratification and wait the 15 minutes for the bigger reward are actually better adjusted and more dependable. On average they scored 210 points higher on the SAT. These results were also congruent with less drug use, less obesity, and were very predictive of future behaviour.
Since the study has been analyzed it has been proven that a person’s ability to delay gratification is correlated with patience, impulse control, self-control and willpower. You see delay of gratification is so applicable to those suffering with any sort of illness whether it is mental or physical. Being able to get through the tough times to later feel your best may feel impossible to some but from my own personal experience it is the most worth it. When I stopped looking for “crutches” and quick fixes and actually put the time, effort and perseverance into my mental health and well-being the difference was incalculable. I am happier than ever, I’m as productive as ever, I’m contributing to society more than ever, my relationships are better than ever and I think most importantly I am thankful as ever. I am thankful that I have had the support systems in my life to make me realize how maladaptive my life was. I was the most impulsive, impaired, impatient woman (the I triad as I call it). And now, that feels like a lifetime ago and I have come so far in my recovery. Whether you need to start out with delaying eating your food before you get home so be it. But if you can gradually lead up to delaying the more important aspects of your life, you will find a world of difference, as I have. Just because you don’t feel good today, doesn’t mean you can’t feel good in a couple months of time. Everything in life that’s worth it is time consuming. You didn’t develop all your bad habits overnight, so you’re not going to rid of all of them in one nights time. A habit takes 21 days to form. Be patient, be persistent and be resilient.