A group of young people has asked me to help them develop structure in their lives. 

They’re motivated by dissatisfaction with their current lifestyle, and hope for a better future has inspired them. Like many of us, these young adults would like to break free of the cycle of mindlessly whiling away their time. 

Having structure in our day will improve our productivity as it provides pre-planned activities. 

We plan and have all kinds of agendas to meet our chosen goal/s. But, for some unknown reasons, we fail to meet our expectations. Most of us will attribute our failures to a lack of time, as we had to take care of “urgent” matters. In this scenario, it may be attending to a text message. The solution that comes readily to our minds is identifying the reasons and time of these urgent matters. But this is not always possible, as we are dealing with the aftermath of being caught in this problem. 

Being attentive to your emotional state will help you move forward. Failure leads to feelings of guilt and low motivation. To tackle these negative feelings, having a daily schedule would be a proactive approach – with a difference. 

Sigmund Freud discussed how principles of pleasure and reality influence our ability to perform a task. The pleasure principle, associated with our search for instant gratification, is the instinctual search for happiness and pain avoidance. The reality principle relates to our ability to delay gratification by minimizing avoidance behaviours, like studying for an examination on a Friday night.

We can start by focusing on completing immediate goals, such as finishing an assignment; having a plan for our impulsiveness, like spending time on social networks. These actions give instant gratification, as they fulfill our psychological needs. We all frequently struggle to give in to these temptations. For one thing, these temptations are easily accessible to us, as they are an integral part of our lives. 

The next step is to shape our behaviours so that we can plan for delayed gratification. For instance, you could arrange for home-cooked meals, instead of buying takeout. Shaping behaviours, as proposed by psychologist B.F. Skinner is the process of acquiring new and more desirable behaviours, done by rewarding successive steps towards the desired goal (successive approximation).

Why is there a constant conflict between instant gratification and delayed gratification? Decision-making involves choosing between two paths. The first path, instant gratification, focuses on the immediate satisfaction of biological and psychological needs, seeking whatever we want immediately, as delaying it will lead to negative feelings of deprivation and loneliness.

The second path, delayed or deferred gratification, leads us to work towards a goal continuously. The individual holds out against the temptation of immediate rewards to achieve a subsequent or delayed compensation.

Practising self-care will help strengthen our resolve to not give in to the temptations around us. Mindfulness will enable us to be nonjudgmental about our thoughts.

It will take patience and many attempts to have a structure in our lives. With each effort, our focus and ability to get things done will improve. 

This article was published in the Telegraph-Journal.

The picture is from Mind Matters A.S. Consulting; 


 Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.