delayed gratification

delayed gratification. isn’t it an interesting word couple? on one hand, it instills mystery. on the other hand, it comes across as simple and clear.

in reality, delayed gratification can be described as the process that someone undergoes when he resists the temptation for an immediate reward. instead, the reward comes at a later time.

if you look closely, delayed gratification makes a lot of sense since everything precious in life comes with a postponed reward such as:

  • dream income: comes after burning the midnight oil
  • dream body: comes with hours at the gym
  • dream house: again, takes time and money

so what does it take to compromise with a delay in one’s reward?

one’s ability to delay gratification directly correlates with how patient or impulsive he or she is. it’s a clear indicator of how much self-control and willpower one has.

hard to swallow? here’s research that backs this claim.

this study dates back to 1960s when a Stanford professor named Walter Mischel conducted a series of psychological studies. one of his experiments was specifically related to delayed gratification. he and his team conducted a test with hundreds of children aged between 4-5 years. this experiment came to be known as ‘The Marshmallow Experiment.’

the experiment

the experiment began by bringing each child (one at a time) into a private room, asking them to settle down in a chair and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them.

once done, the researcher offered a deal to the children. he said that he was going to leave them in the room with a marshmallow. if the child stayed patient and resisted the marshmallow, he’d be gifted another marshmallow.

the choice was simple:

  • one marshmallow (reward) now or
  • two marshmallows (better reward) later on

the researcher left the room…

15 minutes later: there were kids who had eaten their marshmallow but others who had waited

were we to introduce footage of these kids resisting the marshmallow here, it would be pretty entertaining. let’s imagine together though. when the researcher left, some kids immediately jumped up and ate the first marshmallow.

others squirmed around restlessly and tried to resist grabbing the marshmallow, but after a few minutes, they gave in too.

by the end of the experiment, believe it or not, there still were a few children who had managed to wait the entire time and were rewarded the second marshmallow!

the research team was intrigued by their initial findings, but it wasn’t until years later that an even more interesting extension of this experiment debuted.

the children who had had the self-control to hold out for the researcher to come back with the second marshmallow (i.e. delay gratification) ended up having lower levels of substance abuse, higher SAT scores, lower likelihood of obesity, better stress management, and better social skills as their parents reported.

here, here and here are the links to the follow-up studies that have reached these conclusions.

these findings prove that the ability to delay gratification is absolutely critical for ensuring success in your life on so many levels.

a few examples from our lives

let’s take out a few minutes to think examples from our lives (share yours in the comments). here are the classics:

  • if you save more money now, you’ll be able to retire comfortably
  • if you exercise regularly, you’ll be able to achieve the level of strength and appearance that you desire
  • if you eat healthy now, you’ll be able to improve your health considerably

besides, delaying gratification improves some of the most important character traits including your willpower (discipline) and patience. ultimately, it helps you reach your long-term goals faster.

closing thoughts

if you’re thinking that you aren’t the very best at delaying gratification then that’s okay. after all, all good things take time! you can train your ability like you train a muscle. start by working on building good habits but remember to take small steps initially. moving fast only derails you from your track.

i’ll leave you this week with this message: slow and steady wins the race. meanwhile, here’s a bonus – a helpful book, Atomic Habits by James Clear. It covers how habits work, how you can change them, and how you can strengthen your willpower. (my summary on Atomic Habits)