In today’s society, where immediate returns are valued, it is fair to say that short-termism is in fashion. We live in an age of technology where globalization and unprecedented social interconnectedness are changing the way we live and our social relationships, including our relationships with ourselves .
In this context, the search for quick success seems to be the social norm, while hard work and dedication sustained over time seem less attractive and more unpleasant. More and more young people want to become influencers , an aspiration that is mediated by the desire for immediacy and the lack of commitment to long-term goals.
We want change, we long for more, but we often lack the motivation to succeed. Short-termism predicts our lack of satisfaction and involvement with our own work . With this in mind, it is worth considering how these factors can significantly affect our mental health and cognitive abilities.
The instant gratification trap
Nowadays, spending time on social networks such as TikTok, Instagram, Twitch, Twitter, etc., has become the most common of our addictions. The constant flow of images and content catches us and releases “endorphins” or pleasure hormones in the brain. A pleasure that comes with a cost.
Indeed, our adolescents are experiencing serious alterations in their self-esteem and mental health as a result of the use of social networks. Young people who use more than 3 hours a day are at particular risk . Furthermore, our bad digital habits not only take a toll on our mental health, but also on our physical health .
Effects on cognitive health
Our digital consumption habits may also be an important factor in our cognitive health, which refers to our mental acuity and ability to process information and make informed decisions. The paradox here is that this constant stimulation can lead to a lack of real mental stimulation .
Consequently, we may see negative effects on our attention, our memory, or our low tolerance for situations that do not provide us with an immediate reward .
The worrying emergence of artificial intelligence in educational contexts does not help either. Despite its potential advantages, some evidence already suggests that it can contribute negatively to our willingness to make our own decisions .
Without a doubt, the challenge we will face in the coming years will be to achieve a balance between the cognitive relief that artificial intelligence will offer us and the lack of positive mental activity that it can mean for our neurodevelopment .
Mental training as a compensatory solution
By letting technological devices do the thinking for us, we miss the opportunity to stimulate our brains with enriching activities that keep our minds agile and ready. Learning to make our own decisions, and knowing how to do so without expecting an immediate benefit, is an investment in our future problem-solving ability.
The good news, however, is that both motivation and our cognitive abilities are skills that can be developed and strengthened.
The goal of mental training is to periodically challenge our mental capabilities. Through continuous cognitive training, we can overcome mental laziness and change our short-term thinking. This includes participation in puzzles, problem-solving activities, and continuous learning.
Indeed, the evidence confirms that our brain is an amazing organ with an incredible capacity to adapt and change based on our experiences and learning. We know that our elders can benefit from these habits , and even more so if we combine it with physical exercise . And the little ones, too; We can see that children who train their attentional abilities stop needing immediate rewards , with positive effects in their adult lives.
In a world of daily challenges and opportunities, our motivation to engage in tasks that do not result in immediate satisfaction is crucial.
These findings show how our daily actions and choices can affect our mental health and our ability to face challenges with wisdom and determination.
Beyond mental training ‘apps’
Cognitive training involves not only solving crossword puzzles or riddles, but also the continuous acquisition of new skills and knowledge. This could include reading a book, learning a new language, or practicing an instrument.
Interestingly, it’s not just a matter of how we train, but with whom and for what. In this sense, commitment to others makes it easier for us to get involved in long-term goals, ignoring the absence of immediate rewards. Already from childhood, we observe that children who cooperate with each other to achieve a joint goal tolerate delayed gratification better .
Furthermore, our own values or our starting motivation are fundamental when it comes to experiencing the benefits of cognitive training. Also from a very early age, if we believe in our capacity for self-growth, we are more likely to tolerate the lack of immediacy better .
The role of self-motivation against mental laziness
To overcome the temptation of instant gratification from social media and other quick stimuli, we must cultivate our patience for long-term rewards.
A good strategy is to focus on the process, not the rewards. Committing to a new activity will be less frustrating and more enjoyable if we do not constantly evaluate our progress and results.
If we only repeat actions that provide us with immediate rewards, avoiding cognitive effort, we will easily fall into “mental laziness” and lack of motivation.
But we have an opportunity to change this dynamic. Through continuous mental training, seeking cognitive challenges and developing our capabilities, we can strengthen our minds to face life with greater clarity and strength.
Author Bios: Miguel Burgaleta is a Reader in Psychology, David Gallardo-Pujol is Associate Professor of Individual Differences and Personality and Laura Viñals Vila is a Research Coordinator of the IDLab-UB all at the University of Barcelona