Do you need instant gratification and is it suffocating your progress?

Can you have your literature review cake and eat it?Studying or working in academia means that we appreciate deferred gratification. That is we are prepared to wait for pleasure in the future and work hard now. At times we have to sacrifice a lot. We don’t see friends, we don’t go out, we don’t even watch TV. We don’t do things because we know that in the end, the sacrifice will be worth it. We will achieve something worthwhile and important.

Although I know that deferred gratification is important, I am a total sucker for instant gratification. This is essentially the opposite. We do things to receive an instant hit of pleasure. We eat that piece of cake, we call a friend, we surf the web, we go and watch TV. Now, I am no psychology expert, I’m just talking from my own perception and experience, but it seems to me that where writing is concerned, deferred gratification and instant gratification are in direct competition.

What I mean is that we often crave that sudden pleasure hit from instant gratification but we rarely get this from writing. With writing, you have to be disciplined and wait… and wait… and wait. This discrepancy between instant and deferred gratification in this case can be a serious cause of procrastination. If we have to wait too long for gratification from writing, we start to look elsewhere. This can be dangerous as we get more and more distracted from writing, and deferred gratification looks less and less likely, we can snowball out of control. So I was wondering…

…Can you also get instant gratification from writing?

This would solve a lot of problems right? If we could get that instant hit of pleasure from writing, maybe we wouldn’t get so distracted. Well I think it is actually possible. But first we need to understand…

…how do we get gratification from writing

For most of us, this is pretty simple. Gratification comes from completing a task associated with the literature review whether it be writing, organizing, reading etc. When we finish, we feel a sense of achievement, happiness and relief as we drop those feelings of pressure and dread. The nature of this gratification means that we have to wait until we have finished a task, so it will always be deferred however…

…Maybe there is a way to bring this gratification forward

To make the gratification we get from writing more instantaneous, we must finish sooner. Though it might not be possible to finish the whole literature review sooner, we can break it down in to small chunks that can be finished relatively quickly. When I say small I mean small! Anything from 10-30 minutes. By doing this you get gratification from writing every day. Think about it, in a typical day’s writing, you might not finish anything, therefore, no gratification leading to seeking it elsewhere and procrastination. However, if you break writing down into 30 minute tasks can complete 16 of these in a typical 8 hour work day. That’s 16 hits of gratification compared with 0 and a large sense of achievement that can spur you on to do even more. This is where the Pomodoro technique comes in very handy. I really recommend you give it a try.

So what do you think? Can any psychologists out there back me up or tell me I’m talking rubbish? Are there any other ways to get instant gratification from your writing? Please let me know in the comments.


  1. says

    I’m glad we are on the same page here. I always get instant gratification rather than deferred gratification. That’s how I survive through my dissertation journey while working full time. I always believe there’s no point to defer what we can enjoy now.

    My rule is simple. I break down my writing tasks to smaller tasks each day. Once I finish my tasks for the day, I enjoy my night as I wish. Normally, I enjoy it by watching my favorite TV series or movies, have nice family dinner or sometimes go for outing with my spouse. I don’t feel instant gratification can harm my writing progress. On contrary, it actually helps me progress better because I know when I finish some tasks, I get to enjoy myself. That’s the best (instant) motivation I can ever get.

    It’s all come down to planning and organizing. If we can plan well and organize what we need to do on daily basis, we can be sure that we achieve our goals. Hence, we deserve to be rewarded for our effort ‘right now’.

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