One of the common characteristics of the addictive personality is an inability to delay gratification. This means that the individual finds it hard to resist immediate rewards, even if it means sacrificing better rewards that could be achieved by waiting. One of the key things that people need to learn during their time in a rehab programme is how to make sacrifices now in order to reap the rewards later. This vital life skill greatly increases the chances of being successful in recovery.
The ability to delay gratification is linked closely to another skill known as impulse control. This is the ability of the individual to resist doing something they may be detrimental. It is common for individuals dealing with metal health problems like obsessive-compulsive disorder to have poor impulse control, and the same is true for those caught up in alcohol or drug addiction. This inability to control impulses means being unable to stop doing things that are dangerous either to themselves or others. One of the reasons people may not be able to delay gratification is that they are dealing with impulse control issues.
The ability to delay gratification is usually something that individuals develop as they move into adulthood. Some people are better at it than others are, and those developing this ability to a high degree are usually the most successful in life. The benefits of being able to delay gratification in recovery include:
- in order to achieve great things it is vital to make sacrifices now in order to reap the rewards later
- having a much better chance of reaching their potential and achieving their goals
- preparing for the future, and those who fail to do this usually suffer as a result
- in order to build a good life free of addiction, the individual is going to have to make some initial sacrifices – it takes time and effort to build a strong sobriety
- those individuals who have good impulse control are going to be far less at risk of relapse
- working towards a goal is one of the most satisfying aspects of life but people who are unable to delay gratification never really experience this
- the ability to delay gratification makes life more enjoyable in recovery, and this ability to sacrifice now for rewards later means the individual is less likely to develop dry drunk syndrome
- improved impulse control gives the person a sense of mastery over their new life, and it decreases the likelihood of developing new maladaptive behaviours.
Some deal with severe impulse control issues so, in this situation, the help of a professional is likely to be required. For most people though, learning to delay gratification is just a skill that needs to be picked up. A number of steps can be taken to develop this ability in recovery:
- setting goals that require making sacrifices
- keeping a diary and recording the results of delaying gratification – there is a difference between knowing intellectually about delaying gratification and actually experiencing the benefits of doing this
- practices like mindfulness mediation can be effective at helping people improve their level of impulse control
- some individuals find that mental visualisations are a good way to increase the motivation for delaying gratification
- this ability can be improved by repetition – every time a person delays gratification, it makes it easier to do it next time.