Instant Gratification Mindset: How It's Hurting Your Business (and Your Creative Process!)
I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like “impatience” is my default emotional state. I assume that I’m not alone, since the culture and technology we’re steeped in seem to demand it of us. We want all of what we want RIGHT NOW: the recognition, the success, the next hit of dopamine. Is that project getting boring? Time to move on to the next new thing. Something’s taking too much time? Scrap it. Not immediately good at a new hobby? Never trying that again. Investing energy into something that won’t get lots of likes on Instagram? Ugh. Why even bother, right?
There’s no way around it: we live in an instant gratification world. Waiting, observing, planning, and being okay with progress happening sloooowly are some of the most difficult things to do, especially since all we ever see are the glossiest and most impressive facets of other people’s lives. (If you’ve never struggled with any of those things: congratulations! You may stop reading. This isn’t for you.)
Instant gratification behavior shows up all the time in our day-to-day actions, but it can be even more insidious when it influences how we think and how we plan (or rather, don’t plan) for the future. It’s hard to fully grasp the far-reaching effects that this kind of behavior can have on the creative process, and by extension, a creative business — but once you are aware of it, you’ll start to see it everywhere.
If you’re not sure whether any of this applies to you, or if you’re indignantly thinking “Hey! I’m not an impulsive person!” ask yourself these questions. How often do you let your “in the moment” feelings and desires determine your business-related actions? Do you experience a paralyzing inability to make any clear decisions when it comes to your work and your brand (and have you convinced yourself that your lack of commitment is a purposeful choice)? Are you frustrated by nonexistent sales, a body of work that’s inconsistent and all over the place, and stagnant business growth, even though you’re “doing all the right things?” Do you feel like a kite flapping around in a strong breeze, relentlessly pushed in whichever the direction the wind happens to be blowing, always one little snip away from total chaos?
If you answered yes to many of those, it sounds like you might be stuck in INSTANT GRATIFICATION MINDSET. Instant Gratification Mindset (hereby also known as IGM) is a broad, umbrella term that I came up with to describe the root cause of a wide variety of different struggles and common shared experiences I hear about as a creative business owner: things like creative block, inability (or unwillingness) to “niche down” and find a voice, chronic overwhelm and the glorification of overwork, and a struggle to find authentic personal style. IGM doesn’t discriminate: it affects beginners and seasoned entrepreneurs alike. It is defined by a default attitude of spontaneity, impulsiveness, reactionary behavior, and fear. The opposite of IGM is VISION BASED MINDSET. Vision Based Mindset is rooted in patience, forethought, conscious intention, and slow growth. If that sounds foreign and unachievable, you’re not alone, folks.
Why I Wrote This
I’ve personally experienced all of the symptoms of IGM to varying degrees (as a business owner with ADHD, a condition that impacts the brain’s executive functions which control planning, organization, perception of the future, and dopamine seeking behavior, I am basically a walking example of Instant Gratification Mindset). My own struggles are what prompted me to find answers and distill my thoughts about IGM into writing. This multi-part series synthesizes concepts that I’ve been processing and stewing over for months, and in some cases, years! I am very much still a work in progress, and I regularly struggle with many of the things you'll read about. The work is never-ending. It’s gonna be a long ride -- if you’re in it for the long haul, I thank you in advance for reading.
In order to explain the broad effects of IGM, we’re going to first zoom in and highlight three distinct dichotomies that describe the differences between IGM and Vision Based Mindset. These three dichotomies are all interconnected and come together to form two cycles: one that propels you forward into growth, and one that keeps you stuck. In the future installments of this series, we’re going to explore how the cycles work, chat about decision making, the root of all your problems (hint: it has to do with goals and actions), why limitations are so important, how to find balance, and things you can do to break out of IGM.
Play vs. Work (Action)
The first dichotomy is play/work. To illustrate this, we’re going to think about PROCESS. (This section will be mostly applicable to handmade product-based micro businesses, although the concepts are translatable!)
If you’re a creator who makes or designs your own products, take a second to visualize what your entire creative process looks like. I’m talking big picture: every step that takes you from “just a vague idea in my brain” to “finished product available for purchase.” This is the PRODUCT LIFE CYCLE. Have you ever thought about how yours might look in comparison to others in your niche? Other niches? How about others in your broader career field?
Here’s an example of what the product life cycle might look like for a fine artist or jeweler:
Conceptualize an idea for a specific design or a larger collection
Sketch the idea out, rework it, scrap it, turn it into a new idea, until it’s finally ready to begin executing — over a period of days, weeks, or months
Prepare all of the necessary materials — this usually involves making (or having made) expensive investment purchases
The actual execution of the idea — can take weeks, especially if the initial prototype or finished work doesn’t match what was originally envisioned
Marketing/promoting the idea and preparing to sell the finished work— this includes social media, advertising, photography (whether it’s DIY or outsourced to a professional), financial calculations, website maintenance, etc.
Finally selling the finished work!
Keep in mind that this entire process takes weeks or months to go through from start to finish — and especially in fashion-oriented fields such as jewelry, designers are always working through multiple different steps of the process at the same time (for example, designing for two seasons ahead while simultaneously promoting the current season and making the pieces for next season).
To contrast that, the product life cycle for a lot of new makers (especially ones that work with typically “craft” associated mediums) looks like:
Acquire some easily accessible tools and materials — usually quick and inexpensive to do
Go to town with those materials… wherever your heart takes you that day! Sometimes an idea is vaguely conceptualized beforehand, but more often than not, the making process is largely unplanned and spontaneous.
Spur of the moment deciding how to finish your work
Snapping some photos and posting them on Instagram or Etsy
Selling the work at a relatively low price point
Rather than taking weeks or months, this process can be completed from start to finish in as little as a single day.
These examples are obviously generalized and not meant to apply to everyone, nor to lump all creative businesses into one category or the other. Each individual’s process looks different — a fast process doesn’t always mean bad, and a slow one doesn’t always mean good! However, it’s safe to make a generalization that the product life cycle for many jewelers and fine artists is long and expensive, and consequently has to be planned out in detail, with VISION GUIDED DECISIONS made beforehand — and for most beginners that work with accessible and inexpensive materials, the process is extremely fast and easy by comparison.
This illustrates how some mediums naturally lend themselves to spontaneity and impulsiveness, and others do not. On one hand, the ease and accessibility of those quicker mediums allow us to have a lot of fun with a low bar of effort, explore many different styles and ideas without pressure to follow through or commit to any of them, and be able to see those ideas come to life almost immediately — which is… instantly gratifying, you might say.
However, on the other hand, spontaneity can easily become the default modus operandi, vision-guided planning goes out the window, and limitless possibilities plunge us into decision paralysis instead of inspiring creativity (more on that later).
Instant gratification is addicting. The more we experience a short and easy product life cycle, the more frustrated we become with longer processes. In IGM, the primary motivation is immediate enjoyment. Structure and planning become unnecessary, consistency is optional, and the tangible outcome, apart from the maker’s own emotional fulfillment, is irrelevant. THIS IS PLAY.
Don’t get me wrong: play is necessary and extremely important for creative health, and I’m not suggesting that creative business owners shouldn’t have any fun. *insert reference to The Shining*
However, the reality is that a business cannot be built on play.* We’re changeable creatures, easily influenced by our temporary context. The trends we follow, our day-to-day likes and dislikes, and what we do for play are shifting sands. Didn’t somebody say something once about building a house on shifting sand?
When “play” is the default setting and instant gratification is placed above everything else, outcomes will be inconsistent at best, a cohesive brand and body of work is very difficult to achieve, and chaos dominates (remember that kite in the wind?). By contrast, when play is INTENTIONAL, appropriately proportioned, and informed by a BROADER VISION, it has real meaning. It serves a higher purpose — and we’re able to get even more enjoyment from our play.
Going back to the product life cycle for a sec: does yours more closely reflect actions of play, or work? Are you writing or sketching before starting, with a clear vision about what you are going to make that is informed by your goals, and working backwards from that? Is your design process impulsive and done in the moment? Are you happy with the results of that process?
These questions are meant to inspire curiosity and introspection, not judgement. Different things work for different people, and some of my very favorite styles have been the result of an accident or a spontaneous decision while designing — that’s part of the magic of creating. Stating it again for emphasis: having fun and playing is NOT a bad thing. However, defaulting to operating this way ALL THE TIME comes from a desire to use your business as a vehicle for fun and easy instant gratification, rather than building it into a methodical, well-thought-out system in which decisions are only made if they take you one step further down the path towards your large scale goals.
Here’s something else I’m sure you’ve heard before: actions have consequences. When actions are structured like play and decisions are made in a mindset of play, the outcome is something that reflects play. We call this a HOBBY.
In part two of this series, we'll explore the second dichotomy, the root of all your problems, the lizard brain, and more! Until next week...
*to clarify, I am referring to "play" as an action here, not the concept of play/playfulness when used as a BRAND VALUE.