Delayed Gratification

So you can’t really talk about self control without talking about delayed gratification. The concept is simple, it is basically putting off an instant reward for a better reward after a length of time. “But I like things now, I want to have what I want, when I want it.” This is the general consensus of many people here in America. However, if we can just delay our need for satisfaction, for just a little while – something better might just be over the horizon.

So why is Delayed Gratification so important? 

A person with delayed gratification has the capacity to wait to get what they want. They see that there is a bigger reward if they can just resist getting a lesser or more immediate reward. Is it possible for a student to forgo going out with friends to study for an exam? Is it doable to wait to buy a car until you have saved the money for it? These are some hard questions.

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For instance – Let us pretend that you are on a diet, you have cut sugar out of your diet, and now it is your best friend’s wedding. The wedding cake was baked by the Ace of Cakes himself, Duff Goldman. You know that Duff takes pride not only in how the cake looks but how the cake tastes. You know that eating a piece of this wedding cake is going to be fantastic, and you might never get a chance to taste another cake like this. What do you do?

A person that can delay gratification can reach their goals easier than one that gets the immediate reward. Yes a cake baked by Duff Goldman will be fantastic to eat, but eating that cake could derail your goals of losing weight – not losing weight can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and other issues; not only that, but it will degrade your self esteem and could affect your mental health… Thanks Duff!

Honestly I have no problem with Duff Goldman, he is a fine artist to be sure, and I am sure his cakes are fantastic.

Why is Delayed Gratification so difficult?

We, as a society don’t like to wait. We have credit, so we can buy now and pay later – instant gratification. We go through a drive thru, so we can get a third rate burger, salty fries and 64 ounces of soda, so we don’t have to park, go in for a sit down meal or go home and cook for yourself – instant gratification. We purchase lottery tickets in the hopes to win the big jackpot and get instant gratification.

Instant gratification is all around us. Boyfriends and girlfriends move in together instead of waiting for marriage. We are barraged with ads on TV, radio and the Internet to get “Instant approval.” We get surgery to make us slimmer in just weeks, instead of learning to diet and exercise. We even have instant food and microwaves to help us eat quicker. We just cannot get away from it.

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Instant gratification seems to be hardwired into our society. Overcoming that need to be instantly gratified is very difficult, however – the successful people in our society have mastered delayed gratification. I am sure they had fun, I am sure they enjoyed themselves, but not at the cost of their goals. They saw what was on the horizon and they decided to wait for it.

The Marshmallow effect

When studying about delayed gratification, you will run across a study done by Dr. Walter Mischel in the 1960’s – where he took a handful of children from the Bing Nursery School at Stanford University and gave them the marshmallow test. A researcher gave the children a marshmallow and told them that they could eat the marshmallow now or wait and get a second marshmallow when the researcher returned.

Several of the students ate the Marshmallow right away, getting the immediate gratification, while there were other students that waited, and when the researcher came back, they were rewarded for waiting. 

After reading Dr. Mischel’s thesis, I decided to conduct an experiment of my own on my two granddaughters. My wife made some tasty cookies and the girls have eaten them before: they loved those cookies. So I put one cookie on the plate – in front of each girl, and told the girls if they sat there and did not eat the cookie – they could get another cookie when I came back.

I left the room (I went and sat on the stairs) and I could hear the girls. they were doing everything they could to not eat the cookie. I started recording on my phone, so I could watch them for 15 minutes. They fidgeted with pencils, they played with their hands, they talked to each other: However, the cookies were untouched.

Now it can be argued that my granddaughters trust me and take me at my word; they know I will give them something if I say I will. But it can also be argued that they wanted another one of my wife’s delicious cookies. For me, it was a fun experiment.

Living in a fast food world, can we put our desires on hold and delay our gratification? Is it possible to wait to purchase an item, and wait till we have the money and not put it on credit? Can we put off studying for an exam, to go out with friends? Putting off the gratification of the immeadiate can – in the long run – be better for us. We might have to wait, but the rewards can be so much better for us.


The Marshmallow Test/Dr. Walter Mischel/Back Bay Books/2015

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