Postponed Gratification, Mental Health and CBT

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Though I am not a religious person I do follow a certain weekly ritual and the good or bad part of any ritualistic discipline is that after the initial excitement of a new practise begins to fade and it becomes a long drawn process, the mind often begins to question why you took it up in the first place and if there’s any merit in continuing. Sly bummer our minds! So even this morning as I was getting ready to initiate my day of fast, a thought resurfaced, “But do I even feel the original resonance to this regime? If not why continue with just an empty ritual?” I wasn’t paying attention to that question but an answer walked right in nonetheless. (They always do if you’re really listening.) It said, “Yes, today is that day of the week when you even more practise Postponed Gratification.” Whoa! Now that was loaded! And it made me think on the insurmountable merits of this so called faded-initial-resonance ritual too. For truth is, Any ritual is but a disguised disciplining of the mind and body. That thought then lingered on and fuelled this new post.

What is Postponed Gratification?

In a world of 2 minutes maggi noodles, fast paced online transactions, quickies replacing old-fashioned love making and so on, gratification of our wishes and drives postponed most often immediately brings out one knee jerk – Yikes!

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A culture that’ll only destroy! 

But that phrase is a million dollar phrase I guess, especially in context of good mental health. A healthy mind needs much training and taming, like an untamed but potentially good circus tiger. And one of the Best tools I encountered during my mind training (read – therapy) is the concept of postponed gratification. Muchhhh to my deeply resisted uuurrrggghhh feeling each time my able psychotherapist initiated a cycle. But over the years and pushed to extreme cornered situations I have grown to appreciate the real benefit behind such a seemingly excruciating exercise. More so because of my serious mental health issues that are greatly helped by it.

Postponed gratification is the idea and practise of not giving the mind (or the body)  any of its wants/whims/wishes as soon as it throws up one on your face. Definitely not the harmful ones. Not even always the seemingly permissible ones.

How does one develop this habit? 

By trying to become aware of the mind’s sense of urgencies and consciously choosing to postpone whatever the seemingly urgent want/need is. And not necessarily only in case of the obvious harmful ones like impulsive food binge, impulsive urgent sex drives, uncontrollable smoking or alcohol, impulsive shopping and so on – but even for the seemingly harmless mental bits that arrive with a “right Now!” sticky note. For, trust me, the mind is sly enough to know it’s easier to recognize the more obvious ones. Hence it often carries on its dysfunctional maneuvers guised in so called healthier urges too.  So it could be

– watch a good movie..right Now!

-read that great book..right Now!

– do that act of kindness..Now!

– speak your mind..right Now!

– finish this blogpost..Asap!

To remain alert enough to catch any action or thought that demands attention “instantly” and to systematically choose to pause and postpone it is the key.

But Why this Strange Cruelty?

It isn’t strange. It isn’t cruelty. Though it seems to be both. Once my mental health expert had said, “Any impatience is a red alarm!” and oh yes, they’re. People who suffer any mental health dis-order don’t realise how the mind is the real culprit behind most of our seemingly hardcore clinical issues. In reality, if delved deep, most often our clinical depression has the cognition of impatient unmet wishes, our general anxiety demands answers and reassurances against mind’s worry-story with such urgency that it cyclically refuels that very anxiety. Our OCD has components of urgent short term solution against contamination and fears through immediate compulsive habitual measures and most bipolar and/or borderlines like I know very well what role the mind’s sense of urgency and immediate gratification plays in feeding our dis-ordered minds. Hence, a healthy practise of delaying mental/physical gratifications, of any texture and theme, from time to time, serves as a valuable therapeutic tool to discipline the mind and empower our Self against our mental health issues and struggles to a huge degree.

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It’s Not cruelty. Rather an act of kindness to yourself.

CBT and Postponed Gratification :

I am no CBT expert hence I won’t know if it’s a common tool under the same but after almost three years under a very efficient mental health expert who uses CBT too within their Integrated Behavioral Therapy, I at least do know mine uses it more often than I can blink my eyes (albeit with extreme irritation and resistance from my mind even after so many years!).

But if therapy catered to any of our comfort, it would be some useless therapy going on for sure. Hence, in spite of my resistance saga, I do see after all these years, how regularly this tool was/is still applied and how it’s been helping me grow and heal.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy takes on the flawed mental cognitions we hold onto that forms the very foundation of our dysfunctionalities. Hence in CBT, the mind’s dysfunctional needs and preconditions of urgency and immediate gratification of whatever the mind is screaming and kicking for, threatening to go on the next rampage of panic and pain and self harm and the entire package, is systematically addressed and challenged – and thus the mind is gradually trained to learn new cognitions and reprogramming that then paves way for a saner and more functional mind.

How this habit helps specific mental health dis-orders

Again, I am no psychology expert, hence I can’t/won’t theorize but speak solely from my own tried and tested (by fire!) experiences. The habit of postponing mind’s tantrums and threats unless immediately gratified with what it wants for its survival is indeed very helpful in disarming a myriad of mental dis-orders. For example –

Depression most often has the mental cognition of “I want that Now! But no way can I.. So am terribly depressed!” and then to gently and lovingly remind the mind that its wants and whims, however legitimate or not, can’t always be met and the habit of postponed gratification strengthens the mental muscles to exercise patience, prioritising and will power to rise above the depression.

Anxiety and panic attacks almost always demand, with terrified knee jerk reactions, resolution of all worries over perceived doom and immediate reassurances of safety and survival. The tool of postponed gratification aids the mind to stay with the anxiety and panic, without needing immediate verification of survival and slowly deconstruct and disarm the baseless mental stories of terror and doom. It allows us to overcome one of the most potent and self sabotaging traits of our mind – the violent knee jerk.

Dissociation and Derealization bouts Kill! Well, not really but our mind under such bouts “really feel” Deathlike and all survivors of these two dis-orders know how we violently fight the terror inside and try to escape it Asap. Postponed gratification gently forces a derealized/dissociated mind to stay with the terror, the blur and the taste of almost real deathlike sensations with an ‘acquired’ calmness. For these disorders cannot be helped without we staying calm while facing each attack more and more. There are no staple quick fixes for dissociative disorders and the mind’s violent knee jerk yelling to get out of a spell immediately does more harm than help.

OCD on the other hand I have found toughest and almost impossible for me to postpone compulsive gratification of ritualistic cleansing against unwanted thoughts of contamination or fears. But I guess when postponed gratification gets slowly ingrained as a background trait, the severity of the flurry of obsessive fears and anxiety related to OCD too perhaps goes a notch down. I have never tried directly implementing the rule of postponed gratification to my OCD yet as my anxiety and depression and derealization are slowly getting reprogrammed with the same, I do notice my OCD too has gone down much, and something tells me it’s all interconnected. OCD is often based, again, on illogical mental rules, judgements, fear, flurries and anxieties and those when increasingly calmed down with this habit along with other therapeutic tools, OCD too is perhaps bound to take a considerable backseat.

Borderline personality aggression and self harm traits too get effectively tackled with a stern and prolonged practise of postponed gratification. To feel the blood curling rage inside the brain nerves and every cell wanting to pull the plug, slash the wrist or pop the pills, yet to heed a gentle but stern “Hold that thought! Not yet!” message from the saner/Adult part helps as we continue practising this habit. The opposite also is true. Acutest depression phases too, often verging on serious suicidal thoughts find a renewed resilience to postpone this mental urgency to escape pain and flip the switch. It’s a habit and may need sincere practise, especially with any borderline mind’s typically sly manipulative strategies often unknown to the person themselves. Yet, once it becomes kind of a default setting, even this dis-order is greatly aided by the habit of postponed gratification.

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Even as am writing this, I am currently, (once againnnnn, Phew!) put under a kind of imposed phase of postponed gratification by my mental health expert and running almost ten days. In the past few days, often the mind has tried tripping on its own stories of anxiety, depression, negative thoughts and derealization too but it’s also been a wonderful opportunity to, time and again, almost daily, stop and further train the dysfunctional mind with this very habit of postponed gratification. And though mind is chiming in for me to add the adjective ‘cruel’, I am just smiling at it and ending this post with another adjective – ‘priceless’ is this therapeutic/psycholpgical tool of postponed gratification.

May be you could try it too. Whether under your mental health expert or by yourself – may be try picking one mental urgency you would try applying this tool consistently and see how it helps you.

Till then, take care,

Nivedita

Author & © : Nivedita Dey, 2017

Image courtesy & © : Source websites

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