Your alarm is going off, if you snooze five more minutes you’ll be late for work, but you are so tired. What do you do? Sleep in for five more minutes and arrive late for work, possibly facing repercussions, or sacrifice those five minutes of sleepy bliss for a later reward?
Researchers have been studying this topic for years. Dr. Mischel in Stanford University first studied this concept in children. In brief, he asked 32 children to come into a room showed them a reward and told them he had to step out, but when they ate the pretzel (which was on the table) he would return. Then after the researcher returned he showed the child two rewards, and asked which one he/she preferred. When the child chose, the researcher told him/her that he has to step out again and if the child waits until he comes back he will get his choice of reward. If he calls back the researcher then he will not. The study was partly recreated in this adorable video
Take a look here:
Some of the children sacrficed their immediate pleasure for a greater one later on, this is called delayed gratification. It is a part of a bigger study on self control and willpower. Mischel revisited his study and found a correlation between the children that successfully delayed gratification and general success as adolescents including higher SAT scores.
There are studies as to why this happens, if it is learned or biological but that topic is for another time.
What I want to focus on is this concept on a grander scale. Especially in regards to an Islamic way of life. Our end goal is nearness to God and with the reward of heaven if we sacrifice the immediate pleasures of this world. In the Holy Quran, it says:
“And this life of the world is nothing but a sport and a play; and as for the next abode, that most surely is the life — did they but know!” [29:64]
We are taught this from day one. However the ease of gaining instant pleasure is ever-increasing. Shopping with credit cards and online shopping is all about easy buying now and dealing with the loss later. Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes give immediate pleasure and health repercussions later.
Waking up on time, like mentioned in the beginning of this article, is a struggle some of us have every day. In the era of likes and views, some may not realize they are sacrificing the long term rewards of modesty and hijab for the immediate pleasures of conformity.
Self control and delayed gratification are in fact principles of Islam and a way of seeking nearness to God. Interestingly enough, it is also shown that those with delayed gratification often do better in school, have fewer behavior problems and go on to earn higher salaries. And those without it have higher rates of incarceration and struggle with addiction.
Patience, Self control and willpower consequently give us the greater reward and are in a positive feedback loop with delayed gratification.
Here are a few simple tips to build willpower and self control:
- In a fast paced world, taking time out for oneself is so important. Take a few minutes each day for mindful meditation. When you can sit still and think about nothing, you are more in control of yourself.
- A good night’s sleep helps in every aspect of your life — from your physical health to your mental health.
- Exercise and a healthy diet are not only always a good idea for a healthy lifestyle but will also train you to keep a schedule and a plan.
- Like the above, practice delaying gratification for small things. Decide you will resist taking another slice of pizza when you are already full or sacrifice dessert for the night.
- If faced with a temptation, find things to distract yourself with.
It is so easy to give in to temptations but we are better off without them, academically, socially and spiritually.
Contributed by Laila Khan