Sunday, August 24, 2008

The fear of losing comfort

As i promised in my last post, I will more into detail why we choose instant over delayed gratification most of the time. The key concept for this is: The Fear of Loss of Comfort (FLC)

Pretty much all people (including you) make a very big part of their decisions based on fears. Be it
  • the fear of getting hurt (physically or emotionally),
  • the fear of going hungry (when you eat),
  • the fear of dying (when you choose not to go bungee jumping or skydiving),
  • the fear of being rejected (when you meet someone new),
  • the fear of not being loved (when you try to be nice to people you like),
  • the fear of hurting someone that you love (when you are not up front and you don't speak your mind if you don't like something that the other person does),
  • the fear of getting fired (when you suck up to your boss),
  • the fear of gaining weight (when you go on a diet),
  • the fear of financial instability (when you take a job you don't enjoy doing),
  • the fear of losing something you own (when you refuse to lend something to someone),
  • the fear of being cheated (when you go into an expensive store to buy something, while you can get it on EBay for half the price),
  • the fear of being useless (when people never ask for your opinion)

As you can see we have a huge amount of fears and this list is only a small part. All of us make many of our decisions controlled by at least one of these fears. You may call it our instinct for survival, which 50,000 years ago, when we lived in caves, were the one that kept us alive day by day based on these fears. Today however things have changed quite a bit, and many of these fears became either obsolete or counterproductive. If you know a person well enough, you can lend him your stuff without too big of a risk (some people still refuse), or if you meet someone new and they reject you, the consequences are usually nonexistent (50,000 years ago if you upset someone who you didn't know, chances were that you could have gotten killed by that person).

The same is true for mos of the fears and even though having a healthy sense of fear is many times useful, you cannot let yourself be controlled by them, you cannot afford to make your decisions based on fears, because most of the time, they are incorrect. You need to keep an objective perspective on the situation.

So you might be asking yourself: "How do I get away from acting on fears? Heck, how can I tell if I'm acting on a fear, if there are so many of them?"

This brings us to our key concept, the fear of losing comfort (FLC). Why is this a key concept? Well to put it simply, because this is the only true fear that we have. All fears come down to avoiding some form of comfort loss. We have a situation that we're comfortable in and we don't want that to change, since we MIGHT not like the consequences. At least according to our instinct of survival, which as I mentioned, is very VERY outdated.

So let me repeat this, when we are in a situation that we like, we will resist any kind of change, due to the fear of losing the state of comfort that we're in. Even if the change would assure us of a 95% chance of improvement to our level of comfort, the FLC will start screaming about that 5%, and if you're not able to control your fear you will act on it, and chose to stay in your current state.

To make it more clear how lose of comfort is the common element for all fears, I'll give you a few examples:
the fear of dying (when you choose not to go bungee jumping or skydiving) - what bigger discomfort is there then to be dead

the fear of being rejected (when you meet someone new) - you are currently in a state of comfort, if you try and meet somebody and get rejected, you will feel uncomfortable

the fear of not being loved (when you try to be nice to people you like) - being loved is a very comfortable state you're in, losing that love would create huge amount of discomfort

the fear of getting fired (when you suck up to your boss) - losing your job would create a very uncomfortable situation for you

All fears come down to some kind of loss of comfort, thus the only true fear is the fear of losing comfort(FLC). So every time you're in a situation that you're comfortable in and a certain action would require you to lose that state of comfort, you can be pretty sure that a fear will pop up and try to talk you out of making the action that will make you lose comfort, that would deny your INSTANT GRATIFICATION.

Instant gratification (IG) is pretty much a form of FLC. IG gives you instant comfort and satisfies your FLC or at least avoids the loss of comfort.

So every time you act on IG you are acting on a fear, on the FLC.

This is a very bad tendency, since delayed gratification is usually more profitable in the long run.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Delayed Gratification vs Instant Gratification

Why are we so prone to choose instant gratification over delayed gratification, even though delaying the gratification usually brings greater satisfaction and happiness?

Well lately I've been struggling with another dilemma, to which I couldn't find an accurate answer, regardless if I asked average people or psychologists. The answers that I got, only explained this tendency in a limited environment or for a specific situation, but when you tried to apply it in general they usually failed.

Well after boggling my mind with this, this morning I came up with a concept, that in my opinion links all the theories together and can offer a general explanation.

However before I continue, I think it would be best to describe what I mean by "instant and delayed gratification".

The simplest way for this would be through an example:
Let's say, when you were a kid, you're mom was making you're favorite pie and you loved it so much, that you couldn't wait for it to be done so that you can taste it. So what did you do? When the pie was done and your mom took it out of the oven, smelling that incredible smell, you ran there took a piece of the hot pie and stuffed in your mouth, even though you knew that it's gonna burn your tongue and that it's gonna be soar for a few days after (maybe even so much that you wouldn't be able to taste the rest of the pie).

I'm pretty sure that most of us are familiar with this story. Some of us (including me :) ) still do it to this day. We choose to be gratified in the instant when the pie is still hot, even though we are conscious that it will burn our tongue, instead of delaying the gratification, waiting a bit for the pie to cool down, and enjoy the same grate taste without the added suffering.

We know, that if we delay the gratification, it will serve us better, but we are so overwhelmed that we choose to do something that satisfies us less in the long term.

This tendency shows up in countless situations and what we usually choose is the instant gratification over the delayed one. Be it a choice between watching TV and cleaning the room (the 2nd would offer us more comfort in the long run), eating fast-food (+taste, -health) over salad (+health, -taste) etc.

The common element in most of these, is feeling instant discomfort or less comfort, if we delay the gratification. If we choose to eat the salad, we will enjoy less taste in the moment, if we clean the room it will be less comfortable since we will need to invest some energy and if we eat the pie later, the wait will create a lack of comfort for a period of time.

On the other hand, if we chose to gratify ourselves in the instant, we will feel an instant rush of good emotions, an instant "reward" for our actions.

So it is pretty obvious why instant gratification would seem the better choice at first glance. You reduce instant discomfort and feel instant pleasure. It doesn't sound like a bad deal, does it?

.....Well IT IS a bad deal, in fact a horrible one in most cases.

I'll go into the details in my next post.