Instant Gratification vs. Delayed Gratification
If you’ve delved into the self-development realm in your reading, you’ve probably heard of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. This was a series of experiments carried out by Walter Mischel of Stanford University. He tested young children by offering them a treat now, or two treats if they could wait 15 minutes without giving into temptation and eating the first one.
From multiple follow-up studies, Mischel found some pretty interesting patterns. On average, the children who endured delayed gratification by waiting 15 minutes to get two treats, actually had better life outcomes in multiple areas such as education and health.
These experiments merely display the fact that delayed gratification will improve your life. It also assumes that the ability to endure delayed gratification must be a characteristic determined at birth through genes. However, I propose that delayed gratification can be learnt as a skill. Here’s how to develop the ability and how it will impact your life. Firstly:
What is instant gratification?
The desire to experience pleasure or fulfilment without delay or deferment. We live in a world where instant gratification is exploited to the consumer: fast food, porn, quick-fix drugs, loans, etc. Most people don’t have big aspirations, meaning they are far more likely to be drawn into getting what they want now, rather than what they really desire later. This is like gold to marketers.
Advertising campaigns love to highlight the fact their product can give you x results in x amount of days. Lotteries make their money on the average Joe’s fantasy of becoming rich overnight.
Look, the reality is, this instant gratification world has only come about very recently. Even in the recent past most people had to be entirely self-sufficient and labour hard to get what they wanted. Nowadays, many people do the bare minimum in their jobs to get by, and rely on pay-day loans, mortgages, and credit to indulge in their instant comforts and pleasures. If you were to sit on your ass all day a few thousand years ago you’d either starve to death or get eaten by predators.
We’ve carried the attraction to staying in our comfort zones through from the past. Back then, we did all we could to stay comfortable out of survival, but now the survival part is redundant some still stay comfortable and don’t care much for working hard for what they want. Yeah, it’s nice getting things now, but would you rather have small pleasures now or great success later?
What is delayed gratification?
The ability to put off something mildly fun or pleasurable now, in order to gain something that is more fun, pleasurable, or rewarding later. Emphasis on mildly. Some of us are lucky enough to develop the ability to delay gratification at a very early age. I wasn’t, probably due to the fact I was born into a middle class family and didn’t have to worry about too much in my early years. But you can change that very easily, as have I. How though?
You’ve simply got to have a purpose, goals to work towards, and most importantly BIG reasons to achieve your goals. In the past, our reason to work hard was so we could avoid death and live a comfortable life. Nowadays, we can think on a much more complex level, and so the reason people endure delayed gratification is because they can visualize what they will get in the future if they persist, and compare it to what they will get now if they give in.
For example: the kids in the Marshmallow Experiment who waited it out and got a 2nd treat probably valued hard work and perseverance a lot more than the others. In my opinion, this was probably a result of their environment and their upbringing. Perhaps because their parents taught them the value of hard work and perseverance to get what they want, or because they were in a tough financial/social situation which gave them the drive to succeed from an early age.
Gary Vaynerchuk believes his drive came from the amazing opportunity he was given at a young age. He was an immigrant from soviet Russia, and his family were given a small window of opportunity to leave Russia and live in America. He realized how lucky he was and has been driven to exploit his amazing opportunity ever since. The trigger for his ability to delay gratification for long term success was simply his WHY – his reason to achieve big things. The good news is, anyone can create their own why.
How do you develop delayed Gratification?
- Understand the value of it
It’s simple. Long term achievement will provide a much deeper sense of fulfilment than any short term gain. Whatever may feel exciting and comforting now will equate to far less happiness than what you will feel if you achieve a long term goal.
For example, spending your money on some nice clothes now may make you feel good instantly but that feeling will wear off very soon. If you make a habit of spending to feel good, the stress of having no money to do what you really want to in the future is not a great exchange. Making the seemingly insignificant decision to spend below your means regularly is worth the pay off in the future.
- Visualize your goal every day
What you want may seem so far away that it’s almost impossible to put in the effort to get there now. So visualize the feeling of achieving what you want in the long term as vividly as possible. That feeling and the anticipation of making progress towards the goal will outweigh any short term comforts you may be faced with.
- Learn to devalue instant gratification
Whenever you experience someone indulging in an instant gratification, such as fast food, spending above their means, taking drugs, sleeping in, partying etc. Try to analyze their situation. Is that person really happy, deep down? I know many people who indulge in addictions and short term pleasures who, on the face of it, may seem happy. But in reality they are depressed people. They simply use instant gratification to forget their problems for a short amount of time. If you reinforce the negatives of instant gratifications to yourself, you will start to think twice when you are faced with temptation that will hinder you from your goals.
- Be conscious of every decision you make
For every decision you make throughout the day, from setting the time of your alarm, to choosing what to eat for each meal, visualize the effects of each side of the decision. For example:
‘I know I may be tired, but is setting my alarm for 10 minutes before I have to be at work a good thing? If I set my alarm late, I will wake up stressed and have a bad day because of it. If I set my alarm early, I’ll have time to go to the gym and do some reading before work.’
Just take a step out of the situation as if you’re watching your life unfold. Look at each decision as a stepping stone towards your life outcome. For every instant gratification decision, you are slowly moving towards failure. For every delayed gratification decision, you are moving towards success.
- Do the 30 Day Commitment Challenge
This is something I’ve been working on these past weeks. It’s a challenge based around delayed gratification and breaking/forming habits. After all, instant gratification can become a habit, which can be hugely destructive if done on a regular basis.
I’ve published it in the Level Up Self Mastery Group on Facebook. The group is a brand new community for motivated people who want to change their lives for the better. It’s a place to share motivational and educational content, as well as receive VIP blog content, test the latest self-improvement books and be entered into our weekly giveaways!
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