Inability to Delay Gratification
A psychiatrist told of an episode with a particularly difficult patient who had a problem with procrastination at work. Together doctor and patient worked through all the standard steps in analysis–her feelings about her employers; her feelings about authority; her attitude towards her parents; work and success; her marriage; her latent desire to compete with her husband; fear of competition, and so on. After many months of painstaking psychoanalytic procedure, the patient continued to procrastinate as much as ever. They had made no progress in getting to the root of her problem. Finally, they had a breakthrough after the following fluke conversation occurred.
“Do you like cake?” her doctor asked one day, the question popping seemingly out of nowhere.
“Which part do you like better, the frosting or the cake?”
“And how do you eat a piece of cake?”
“I eat the frosting first, of course.”
The doctor thought he was being inane, but something instinctual had driven him up to this point. Now, having established her cake-eating habits they examined her work habits, and predictably they found that daily she always did the most pleasurable part of her work first. She enjoyed the frosting first. This took an average of one hour. The remaining six hours of her workday were routinely spent getting around to the objectionable remainder.
From here on the solution to her problem of procrastination was unbelievably simple. All she had to do, her doctor informed her, was tackle the unpleasant part of her work in the first hour, and she could spend the remaining six hours doing what she enjoyed.
The doctor wisely pointed out that this arrangement was a considerably better deal than spending the first hour in pleasure and the remaining six in pain. His patient was cured of procrastination, which, according to Lord Krishna, is a symptom of the mode of ignorance.
The woman’s problem was caused by her inability to delay gratification. This is a symptom of the mode of passion, wherein pleasure comes first and pain comes at the end. Since pain is never something to look forward to, in her attempt to put off the pain indefinitely or for as long as possible, she descended into tama guna by procrastination. In contrast to the mode of passion, happiness in the mode of goodness is painful at first and pleasurable in the end. This is what she learned from her psychiatrist.
He described it in his own words,
“Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live.”
Inasmuch as he is advocating the mode of goodness, we have to agree with him. The discipline of delaying gratification is one of many tools or techniques for dealing with the pain of problem-solving. It is vital to growth of the spirit. The discipline of delaying gratification is also a tool vital to the well-being of an institution. Srila Prabhupada expressed the same idea in his motto, “Work now, samadhi later.”
One problem is that in a consumerist society, in which the advertising industry conditions us to the concept of instant gratification (the mode of passion), it is difficult to practice delaying gratification. Psychological studies prove that conditioning runs deeply. We must understand, therefore, that even for us in Krishna consciousness, with the background most of us have had, delaying gratification is difficult.
It is difficult for us to grow beyond the mode of passion, expectancy of instant gratification, to the mode of goodness, delaying gratification of our plans and desires. The problem becomes further complicated when we, in the name of Krishna consciousness, hold it within our hearts that we are Krishna’s devotees and therefore special, so special that the normal rules about the modes of nature do not apply to us. On the bare assumption that we are above the modes, we pay no attention to their symptoms, though we may regularly display them.
People who have not learned the discipline of delaying gratification cannot help but be impulsive. They develop the habit of skirting all painful issues in their lives. This naturally leads to varying degrees of aberrant psychological traits and dysfunctional behavior. They may, for example, develop mental blocks whereby they minimize or deny the reality of some situation in their life, by rationalizing the experience. A wife who is physically abused by her husband may believe she deserves it because she is such a bad person.
These neuroses can occur on an individual scale and in a group dynamic as well. In an organization, for example, this tendency to denial will be symptomized by the high acceptability of good news. Bearers of bad news soon learn that only good news, more specifically, praise, is acceptable, the way to get ahead in the institutional hierarchy.
One of the principal symptoms of the tendency for instant gratification, which we must not forget is a symptom of the mode of passion, which gives us grief as the ultimate result, is that honest feedback is unwelcome. In olden days kings who had this problem would behead the bearers of bad news. Nowadays, we have developed more sophisticated ways of dealing with unpleasant news. Our aversion to honest feedback may manifest in various ways. Typically, we disguise it with name-calling. Rather than examine the facts, the bearer of unpleasant news is given a bad name to destroy his credibility. Within ISKCON we say he or she is a fault-finder, aparadhi, or is “just envious.” We say that he or she is “against Prabhupada,” when all that really happened, is that they disagreed with us. The common assumption in most of these games is that whoever has a title is right in any dispute simply by dint of being “more advanced”, having “seniority”, or a position of authority. The hard facts do not matter. One is right by the force of one’s strength. This is a symptom of the mode of passion, according to the Eleventh Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.25.2-5,
“Mind and sense control, tolerance, discrimination, sticking to one’s prescribed duty, truthfulness, mercy, careful study of the past and future, satisfaction in any condition, generosity, renunciation of sense gratification, faith in the spiritual master, being embarrassed at improper action, charity, simplicity, humbleness and satisfaction within oneself are qualities of the mode of goodness.
Material desire, great endeavor, audacity, dissatisfaction even in gain, false pride, praying for material advancement, considering oneself different and better than others, sense gratification, rash eagerness to fight, a fondness for hearing oneself praised, the tendency to ridicule others, advertising one’s own prowess and justifying one’s actions by one’s strength are qualities of the mode of passion.
Intolerant anger, stinginess, speaking without scriptural authority, violent hatred, living as a parasite, hypocrisy, chronic fatigue, quarrel, lamentation, delusion, unhappiness, depression, sleeping too much, false expectations, fear and laziness constitute the major qualities of the mode of ignorance.
Now please hear about the combination of these three modes.”