Emotional Health

Delay of Gratification: Too Much of a Good Thing

As adults were are able to learn about things in advance, make predictions about them, and more important, to judge the future according to past experience. We learn to delay gratification, and often it is a wise and mature thing to do so.

But if gratification is delayed indefinitely, what are you really doing? The chronic dieter fails to calculate past experience realistically, hoping that her goal is in reach. Though for some it may be true, many dieters also fail to take into account how often lost weight is regained, especially as we get older.

Not loving yourself operates two ways here. First, there is the painful failure to accept yourself as you are. Weight is as especially vexing trap, because we have been promised by a billion dollar industry that is under your control, and that it is something about yourself that can be altered. Like in the old Clairol ad that said, “If I have only one life to live, I want to live it as a blonde,” many of us say something equivalent-I want to live my life with a photo-perfect, universally desirable body. And while you may not fool yourself into thinking you can look like a model, the idea is stubborn: “I can be better.”

While self-improvement is usually a worthwhile goal, not if it stems from a persistent feeling of self-criticism, disapproval, and shame. Loving yourself means you see and accept yourself as you are. You believe you are worthwhile person, not a paragon of virtue and perfection. You have a realistic sense of your strengths, faults, and your potential for improvement. It allows you the live your life, the best way you can, in the present.

Self-love like this is embedded in the Serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Learning to love and accept yourself is essential to recovery and the maintenance of sobriety. If you have an addiction problem, you must face the fact that your behavior has been imperfect. You learn to accept, in treatment, the idea that for many reasons, you are someone who cannot drink safely. But you also learn to treat yourself lovingly by asking forgiveness from others and most important, forgiving yourself. You are flawed, but you are still lovable, and worthy of living the best life you can, with a realistic sense of your limits and your potential.

Timing is an art, no doubt, but if you are always living for the future or in the future, you are depriving yourself. Like the person who on his deathbed says, “I wish I’d spent less time at the office,” delaying what pleases you is not always the best course, and it’s not easy to keep our priorities straight. Many people don’t realize this until it is too late.

Nora Ephron quipped, “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.” Ephron, despite her impressive and broad array of achievements, is someone who does not hide her long history of insecurity about her looks. In middle age, she even published a book called “I Feel Bad About my Neck,” which, among other things, poked gentle fun at herself and other women who have trouble accepting their “imperfections.”

If you don’t love or value yourself, you are less able to recognize when others don’t value you enough either. Self-love gives you the freedom to recognize when it is a good time to say “I’m out of here,” whether with a lover, husband, friend, business associate, or employer.

When Mika Brzezinski interviewed Nora Ephron for her book, Knowing your Value, (2010) Ephron told her:

“I think several things are more true about women than they are about men in terms of knowing your value. One is that women have a constitutional resistance to quitting. We like to be good. We like to be loyal. We like to be good girls. One of the ways to make more money in the workplace is by quitting and going someplace else. It’s always been my feeling that women just don’t get that, they don’t learn that lesson that men constantly teach, which is you have to keep moving in order to get raises.” (p.47)

Brzezinski’s book is full of examples of how women fail to demand their full value in the workplace. Compared to men, women are much less likely to ask for raises and much more likely to feel awkward and uncomfortable when they do. Underestimating their worth in the present, and doubting their abilities in the future (“I can easily get another job—someone else will want me,”) many of us do not have an accurate picture of ourselves.

Often you are unaware of these ideas, because they are so embedded, not to mention reinforced by the culture at large. But when you behave like this, you invite others to underestimate you as well.

The Jewish scholar Hillel asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” If you do not deem yourself worthy, how can you ask others to see you that way? But women, especially, see themselves in relation to others, and often value generosity over self-confidence. The Hillel question goes on to ask, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” a question that resonates deeply with those who are quick to find fault in satisfying their own needs.

“And if not now, when?” is the final question that Hillel asks. Your dedication to your own needs must not be exclusive, he argues, but it must be primary, and it should not be delayed.

Another piece of wisdom from Jewish scholars is this: “Days are scrolls; write on them what you want to be remembered.” Don’t keep waiting for a day that may never come.



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