15th March, 2023
In today’s day and age of one click purchases & immediately accessible information, instant gratification is seen as the norm though it isn’t always best – in fact, impulse control is an essential life skill. When it comes to achieving your goals, delayed gratification is the skill that will get you there faster.
Delayed gratification means resisting the temptation of an immediate reward, in anticipation that there will be a greater reward later. It’s a powerful tool for learning to live your life with purpose.
According to Freud’s “pleasure principle,” humans are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is why children seek instant gratification. But as we mature, this desire is tempered by the “reality” principle, or the ability of humans to consider risks versus rewards, by which we’re able to delay fulfillment instead of making a poor decision – especially If the later reward is greater than the one we’d get immediately.
In the 1960s, a Stanford professor Walter Mischel began conducting a series of important psychological studies. During his experiments, Mischel & his team tested hundreds of children around the ages of 4 & 5 years old.
The experiment began by bringing each child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them. At this point, the researcher offered a deal to the child.
The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.
So the choice was simple: one treat right now or two treats later. The researcher left the room for 15 minutes.
As you can imagine, the footage of the children waiting alone in the room was rather entertaining. Some kids jumped up and ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher closed the door. Others wiggled and bounced and scooted in their chairs as they tried to restrain themselves, but eventually gave in to temptation a few minutes later. And finally, a few of the children did manage to wait the entire time.
Published in 1972, this popular study became known as The ‘Marshmallow Experiment.’ The interesting part came years later.
As the years rolled on & the children grew up, the researchers conducted follow up studies and tracked each child’s progress in a number of areas. What they found was surprising.
The children who were willing to delay gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents.
The researchers followed each child for more than 40 years & over & over again, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeeded in whatever capacity they were measuring.
And if you look around, you’ll see this playing out everywhere,
If you delay the gratification of watching TV, you get better sleep.
If you delay the gratification of finishing your workout early or walking those extra steps, then you’ll be fitter. Etc. etc.
Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction. And that’s exactly what delayed gratification is all about.
This brings us to an interesting question: Did some children naturally have more self-control, and thus were destined for success? Or can you learn to develop this important trait?
We can train our ability to delay gratification, just like we can train our muscles in the gym.
Before we go further, let’s clear one thing up: these studies are just one piece of data, a small insight into the story of success. Human behaviour & life in general is a lot more complex than that, so let’s not pretend that one choice a four-year-old makes will determine the rest of his or her life.
The studies do make one thing clear: if you want to succeed at something, at some point you will need to find the ability to be disciplined and take action instead of becoming distracted and doing what’s easy. Success in nearly every field requires you to ignore doing something easier (delaying gratification) in favour of doing something harder.
Delay gratification for better results and stay blessed forever.