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Home » How Instant Gratification Is Harming Society And What To Do About It: John Davidson (Transcript)

How Instant Gratification Is Harming Society And What To Do About It: John Davidson (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of John Davidson’s talk titled “How Instant Gratification Is Harming Society And What To Do About It” at TEDxCSUS 2018 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The Boomerang Experiment

When I was first approached with this theme of boomerang, I thought it would be really fun to actually learn how to throw a real boomerang. I mean, how hard could that be, right?

The idea of picking up that smoothly carved curved piece of wood, tossing it far into the distance and watching it arc across the sky, circle back until it returned in my hand sounded amazing. What turned out to be far less amazing was heaving that chunk of wood far into the distance without it returning, running after it, picking it up, throwing it again, and running some more.

After a long day of disappointment, I was heading home with a sore shoulder and a bruised ego. I started reflecting on some of the things that I really enjoy doing to lift my spirits a bit. Physical fitness. Now, I’m not going to be on the next cover of Men’s Health magazine, but working out makes me feel good, gives me confidence and energy.

Likes and Dislikes

There is no better feeling in the world than rolling away on my skateboard after landing a trick for the first time, especially when it’s first try. I like money in my savings account. Who doesn’t like that, right? And I can only imagine that I would probably very much enjoy catching a boomerang.

Now, of course, I had to avoid being too optimistic, so I started thinking about some things that I dislike. Top of that list is waking up early. No filter on that picture. Cardio.

I don’t know anyone who likes this one. Falling on concrete is something that I’m reminded more harshly of each time I go skateboarding nowadays. Safe. Bringing my lunch to work rather than eating at one of the many delicious restaurants near GameStop headquarters.

And lastly, I very much dislike throwing a boomerang into the ground. Now, as I was looking at both lists and comparing them, I couldn’t help but notice that the things I enjoy are very oftentimes the result of successfully and consistently accomplishing things that I don’t really like to do. What I realized is that the ability to delay gratification while focusing on a long-term goal brings back around success, like a boomerang. Now, this may sound trivial, but this is actually a very serious issue.

The Problem with Instant Gratification

We as a society are losing the ability to delay gratification. We’re losing it because we are constantly stimulated and have the hope — I’m sorry. I thought I put this on set. Ah! Someone liked my tweet! Sorry, where was I? Stimulation.

Stimulation. We’re overly stimulated and have the ability to receive immediate gratification now more than any other time in human history. In fact, I didn’t realize how much this affects our lives until I started doing some research. We can swipe right, ask Google, copy and paste, take a pill, get Amazon Prime, all of which are very efficient, and efficiency does have a purpose, right? But taking these shortcuts repeatedly over a period of time had some serious implications.

The Consequences of Instant Gratification

The U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis states that 57% of Americans only have $1,000 or less in their savings accounts, while 39% have no savings whatsoever. Yale Scientific Magazine discovered that our demand for instant cures, even for minor illnesses, is creating a resistance to antibiotics, which in the years to come could make even routine infections untreatable.

And why do we see wireless companies spend millions of dollars on campaigns each year begging people to wait to use their service? Well, reports 1.6 million cell phone-related car crashes each year, including 11 teenage deaths every single day.

Guys, immediate gratification is literally killing us. In addition to these consequences, we also miss out on the benefits of delayed gratification. The Atlantic reports that creative thought doesn’t begin until about 15 minutes of boredom.

The Benefits of Delayed Gratification

In fact, many of you may start thinking creatively shortly after I stop talking. Forgoing that big, juicy, delicious burger after work and instead eating the freezer burger and leftovers I have in my fridge makes a surprisingly large difference in my bank account at the end of each month. And simply going to bed early rather than watching SportsCenter again for the second and third times in a row, if I’m being completely honest, helps set me up for success, give me margin to plan and start the next day.

You know, we rarely focus on the process of success, the unsexy, ungratifying tasks required to get us to where we really want to go. For marketers like myself, this can include poring over countless spreadsheets, measuring what we did right and wrong in the last campaign before the fun part, which is concepting and strategizing the next one.

Watch any NFL post-game conference and you’ll notice the winning quarterback crediting endless hours in the film room studying the defense that he just defeated. So where am I going with all of this? Well, what I want to share with you is that delayed gratification is something that we can learn, something we can improve on and hopefully share to future generations who are more stimulated and inundated with technology than we are today.

A Plan for Improvement

However, it’s going to take a plan and some purposeful discipline, so I have some homework for you guys. First, I’d like you all to take out your immediate gratification enabler and I want you to turn off your social media, text message and e-mail alerts. I just lost the whole room. I didn’t say it was going to be easy.

Turn those off and I want you to carry a notepad with you for the next week. On day one, I just want you to mark down each time you check your phone. At the end of the day, I’d like you to set aside a couple of hours to count up all of those tallies. And on day two, I cracked myself up.

On day two, limit yourself to checking your phone five times fewer. Limit yourself by five again on day three, five fewer times than day four, five, do it for a week. Now, what this is going to do are two things. Number one, it’s going to identify the issue.

You’re definitely going to recognize that desire for immediate gratification. You’ll really recognize it the first few days, I can tell you that. Secondly, it shows us that with just a little bit of effort, we do have the willpower to overcome this strong impulse. So how do you apply this?

Setting Goals and Taking Action

Well, the key is identify an issue that you really need to overcome. Set a goal six months from today of where you’d like to be regarding that issue. Add attainable milestones between now and then, allowing you to slowly progress towards your goal. It doesn’t have to be cold turkey.

I would recommend doing this with a friend, keep you accountable, and keep track of your progress when you inevitably veer off the path. At the end of that six months, assess where you are with that issue, if you need to continue working on it, or if you’ve accomplished your goal, apply the same process to another aspect of your life. As you work through this process, you’ll notice that the itch for immediate gratification will start to soothe. You’ll find that your accomplishments mean more, and you’re actually accomplishing more more often.

Be patient, continually remind yourself of that long-term goal. Rome wasn’t built in a day. May never have been built if they had Snapchat back then, am I right? Stay on the path, and don’t forget to enjoy the journey.

As for me, I’m still working on it. Thank you.

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