“It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.” Aristotle
We live in a society that, more and more, is driven by instant gratification. We look for the shortest, quickest, easiest ways to satiate our appetites, whatever those appetites might be. Whether it’s food, information, completion of chores, or interactions with others, we attempt to satisfy our desires in whatever ways are most immediately and easily available.
Our decision-making tends to operate the same way. When presented with multiple options, we rarely take time to analyze those options thoroughly. Instead, we tend to “go with our gut”. We make our choice immediately and then pride ourselves on how decisive we are.
Although we’ve gotten used to this way of existing, there are a few problems related to this philosophy of speed that are worth considering.
First, we make choices based on limited information. This is probably obvious. There is no time to gather additional information if we act immediately upon experiencing a desire or being presented with a choice. For example, have you ever lost your temper with someone only to find out a little later that the assumptions you made that triggered your strong emotions were wrong?
Second, we don’t have time to process the information we do have. Although we have not taken the time to gather additional information, we most likely aren’t operating with no information. However, when we react immediately, our brains simply aren’t capable of analyzing the limited information we have access to thoroughly and accurately. For example, have you ever been asked your opinion on an issue, given your opinion, and then a little later…after receiving no new information but thinking more deeply about the information you already had…drawn a different conclusion?
Third, given just a little bit of time, our circumstances will often change by themselves. This one can be a game-changer. For example, have you ever:
- Had a craving for some ridiculously unhealthy food or drink that you couldn’t get right then and there?
- Committed to getting that food/drink as soon as you could (e.g., on the way home from work)?
- Left work at the end of the day and either no longer wanted that food/drink or forgot about it entirely?
Here’s another example. Have you ever gotten an email or text that made you fume but at a time when you simply couldn’t respond immediately? You read the message and right away began mentally crafting a scathing, withering response…but you couldn’t actually write and send the message because of whatever you were in the middle of at that specific moment. Then, later…when you did have time to write your response…
- Was the response you ultimately wrote different from the one created in your mind when you’d first read the message?
- Or, did you decide to forego sending a message at all?
- Or, in the time that had passed between the message and when you could respond, has the other person ever apologized or clarified their message in a way that changed your reaction?
Today, recognize your tendency to react immediately whenever a desire or choice arises. In those moments, unless life and limb are truly on the line, commit to asking and answering two questions and doing one thing.
Ask yourself, “What information am I missing?” and “Are there other ways to understand and interpret the information I have?” Also, commit to waiting at least one minute before locking yourself into any decisions or actions. By postponing our choices and actions by even just a few seconds, we can greatly enhance the quality and effectiveness of our choices.
Sometimes, time really is the best medicine.