- 5 Easy Ways to Teach Kids Self-Control and Delayed Gratification
- Marshmallow Test: The Famous Study in Self-Control and Delayed Gratification
- #1 Avoidance
- #2 De-emphasis of Rewards
- #3 Positive Distraction
- #4 Abstraction
- #5 Self-directed Speech
- The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
- The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
- Additional Resources:
- How to Delay Gratification and Control Your Impulses
- What is Delayed Gratification?
- Delayed Gratification vs. Instant Gratification
- Examples of Delayed Gratification
- The Marshmallow Test
- Everyday Examples of Delaying Gratification
- Improve Your Ability to Delay Gratification
- How to Master Delayed Gratification to Control Your Impulses
- Why Delayed Gratification Is Essential
- Benefits of Delayed Gratification
- It will enable you to acquire new skills
- It sets you up for financial security
- It can help you at work
- How to Master Delayed Gratification for Productivity
- 1. Know Your Goals
- 2. Think Through “What If” Scenarios
- 3. Use Tools to Take Away Temptations
- 4. Get an Accountability Partner
- 5. Reward Yourself for Following Through
- Why Is Delayed Gratification So Hard?
- Final Thoughts
- What is delayed gratification and why is it so important in life
- 2. Make rules
- 3. Practice gratitude
- 4. Remind yourself of your goals
5 Easy Ways to Teach Kids Self-Control and Delayed Gratification
Let’s be honest: children sometimes suck at being patient.
I know mine do.
Unfortunately, their lack of patience and self-control can become contagious to us adults, too. I admit that I’m prone to snapping, “Just wait a minute!” when my kids are screaming because I take too long to cut their grapes.
And before I know it, it becomes this vicious cycle—my children’s impatience makes me impatient, which in turn makes them more impatient, until it spirals control.
I know I can’t indulge them when they whine instead of waiting quietly – all parents, I do believe in teaching kids about self-control and delayed gratification.
But, the way I sometimes go about it isn’t quite right.
Editor’s Note: For more about the most effective ways to teach kids delayed gratification and more, click here for our FREE mini-course How to Be a Positive Parent.
Instead of expecting 2- and 3-year-olds to magically acquire self-control skills overnight (that would be cool though, wouldn’t it?), I need to model and teach these skills to them.
Marshmallow Test: The Famous Study in Self-Control and Delayed Gratification
Psychologists have studied why some kids seem to excel at demonstrating self-control and delaying gratification, while others struggle for long time now. Have you heard of the famous “marshmallow test” conducted by Walter Mischel and a team of researchers at Stanford University in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s?
One by one, 4-year-old children were presented with a marshmallow and informed that they could either eat a marshmallow now, or wait 15 minutes and receive two marshmallows. Some children gobbled the marshmallow immediately, while others managed to wait the full 15 minutes and receive the reward of a second marshmallow.[Note from Sumitha: Here is a video of the marshmallow test in action. It’s not from the original study, but captures the kids reactions sooooo well.]
The researchers continued to follow up with the children for the next several decades. They found that the 4-year-olds who had successfully waited for 15 minutes differed in significant ways from the children who couldn’t wait. Over the years, the children who had “passed” the marshmallow test developed the following characteristics:
So, is the lesson that some people are born with better self-control, and that this trait determines their entire life trajectory?
Far from it.
The researchers continued to conduct a lot of variations on the marshmallow test. In some of their studies, more children were able to resist the siren call of the marshmallow — because the researchers taught them how.
Walter Mischel concluded that “preschoolers tended to wait longer when they were given effective strategies.”
In other words, self-control and delayed gratification are essential life skills — but they can be learned.
This finding is good news for us parents! It means that we can actually do something positive to teach our kids about delaying gratification.
So what was it that helped kids delay gratification? my reading of the studies, here are the 5 research-tested strategies that I am trying with my own kids.
When the researchers covered the marshmallow, the children didn’t need special strategies to avoid eating it. They just weren’t tempted when they couldn’t see it—thus proving the old proverb “ sight, mind.”
So something as simple as hiding temptations from your children’s sight—whenever possible—is the most effective way to stop them from becoming overwhelming. Put chips and cookies away in the cupboard if you don’t want your children to whine for more. Stop checking all day on your iPad if you want your kids to limit screen time.
Removing temptation may sound a cop-out, but as your children get older, you can explain the purpose of this strategy to them so that they can internalize it and start consciously doing it for themselves.
Some of the children in the original study spontaneously adopted this strategy by turning their backs to the marshmallow or covering their eyes—and sure enough, the children who adopted this strategy on their own were able to wait longer. So it’s an important skill for kids to learn.
#2 De-emphasis of Rewards
Parenting experts often tell us to dangle rewards before our children. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: “Don’t punish bad behavior—just reward good behavior!” When the going gets tough, we’re supposed to remind our children of the stickers and M&Ms that they want to earn.
But in the marshmallow test, the researchers found that children were less ly to wait when they were encouraged to think about the desirable properties of the reward (such as “the marshmallows are yummy and chewy”). Obsessing over the marshmallow made children want to eat it.
So if you want your child to wait patiently for a reward, don’t emphasize the reward that your child is waiting for.
For instance, the next time you’re at the grocery store, don’t tell your children, “If you’re quiet, you can have a piece of delicious candy when we’re done.
” Thinking about candy will make them want to grab all the candy they can well before they make it to the checkout line! Try a different strategy in a situation where you can’t give the reward right away.
#3 Positive Distraction
Children waited longer when the researchers told them to “think fun thoughts.”
Some of the children decided to “just sing a song” or “go to outer space.” Others distracted themselves by thinking of a different food—for instance, if they were trying not to eat a marshmallow, they talked about pretzels. In one version of the test, some children were given a Slinky to play with while they waited—and the majority of children with a Slinky successfully waited 15 minutes.
In another version, the researchers tried to distract the children by instructing them to think negative thoughts—for instance, to think about falling down and hurting themselves.
The children in this condition were terrible at waiting for the reward. The stress of the negative thoughts apparently led them to console themselves with the marshmallow. Thus, trying to distract children by reminding them of punishment or other negative consequences may backfire.
The lesson? Distraction can work, but it should be fun rather than stressful.
Children waited longer when instructed to think of the marshmallow in an abstract way—for instance, as a picture, or as a cloud. Walter Mischel theorized that abstraction helped the children to “cool” their desires for the snack by emphasizing intellectual strategies over “hot” emotional reactions.
If your children focus on a temptation that you can’t hide or avoid, encourage them to consider the object’s abstract properties rather than its tempting properties.
For instance, if they’re staring at the TV set, pleading for you to turn it on, ask them what shape it is and lead them on a scavenger hunt for similar shapes in the house.
Or tell them to imagine it as a magic picture frame and ask what pictures they “see” in it.
But remember that the children in the original study were around 4.5 years old. This strategy probably works best with children age 4 and up, not with 18-month-olds who haven’t developed abstract thought yet.
#5 Self-directed Speech
Although researchers didn’t specifically instruct them in this strategy, some of the children chose to engage in self-directed speech in order to help themselves wait. They repeated phrases to themselves “I have to wait, so I can get two marshmallows.” Engaging in self-directed speech correlated with longer wait times.
Parents should therefore teach phrases that are easy to repeat and that remind children to control their impulses.
For instance, if you don’t want your child to beg for endless amounts of cookies, tell her in advance that she’ll only get one, and ask her to repeat the phrase “just one cookie” before you give it to her.
Then, if she finds the limit to be stressful, she can repeat “just one cookie” to herself.
As you can see, these strategies aren’t particularly difficult to understand. They’re just as straightforward as teaching our children their ABCs—and may be even more fundamental to their academic success. If Mischel and his researchers were able to teach some kids to apply these strategies in a single 15-minute session, surely we can succeed with our own children.
The important part is to be consistent in applying them. Another psychologist who studies self-control has compared it to a muscle—which means that it can strengthen with exercise.
By helping our children apply their best self-control strategies to delay gratification in everyday situations, we help them to develop better self-control overall.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
- Examine your children’s self-control issues. When do your children experience difficulties with being patient or delaying gratification? Create a plan using one or more of these strategies (avoidance, de-emphasis of rewards, distraction, abstraction, or self-directed speech) to mitigate these difficult situations for them.
- Examine your own self-control issues. Children ultimately learn best from imitating their parents, not from nagging or commands. So modeling these strategies yourself is a great way to teach them to your children.
- In which areas do you have problems with self-control? Invent a plan using one or more of these strategies to help yourself! Let’s say you routinely find yourself glued to your phone at the park, even though you’ve made resolutions to run around with the kids and get some exercise. Maybe you could invent a phrase to remind yourself to get off the phone (“two minutes, and then I put the phone away”). Plan to repeat the phrase to yourself and even teach the kids to remind you of it. You might develop a back-up plan using a different strategy in case the first one fails. If a self-directed phrase doesn’t help you step away from the phone, you could plan to leave it at home or at the bottom of your purse ( sight, mind).
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
- Over the next week, implement your strategies for improving self-control both in your children and in yourself. Which strategies seem to work best for your children? Which ones work best for you?
- Some strategies might completely backfire—and that’s ok. For instance, I’ve learned that distraction doesn’t work for my 2-year-old son. If I try to distract him with a toy when he’s fixated on some forbidden item, he screams and throws the unwanted toy in my face. Over time, however, children may become developmentally ready for more sophisticated strategies, so keep an open mind and reevaluate strategies later that didn’t seem to work at first. I’ll try distraction again when my son is older, but right now it’s not going to be my “go-to strategy” when I really want him to behave.
- Discern which strategies are most effective and practice those ones the most. My 2-year-old benefits most from avoidance, especially removing him to a different room, so I find myself doing this several times a day (or sometimes several times an hour, on a rough day). I hope that as we continue to implement these strategies, those rough days will eventually become few and far between.
How to Delay Gratification and Control Your Impulses
The ability to delay or defer gratification is one of the most useful character traits that a person can hold, as it allows you to stop, think, and truly decide what is in your best interest in a given situation.
When you learn how to delay gratification you’ll have a better grasp of impulse control, the means by which we stop ourselves from doing exactly what we want to do in the moment, in favor of stepping back and asking if that is really what we want to do.
In this article I’m going to look into the benefits of delayed gratification, including what learning to delay gratification promotes, as well as how having good impulse control will see you right throughout your life.
What is Delayed Gratification?
Delayed gratification is the act of delaying your need for satisfaction in the moment in order to receive that satisfaction at a later date. Typically, the rewards of delaying gratification are larger than if you give into temptation right away.
Studies have shown that the ability to delay gratification promotes success in many areas of life, including in your career, relationships, and finances. If you currently have an inability to delay gratification (or feel that you do), this is something that you can work to overcome with time.
Delayed Gratification vs. Instant Gratification
An easy, if simplistic, way of looking at the differences between instant gratification and delayed gratification is that with instant gratification you avoid pain right now, while with delayed gratification you avoid pain in the future.
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This “pain,” can be a physical pain, but it’s just as ly to be an emotional pain, such as the pain of not allowing yourself to eat that extra slice of pizza, or pushing yourself to go for one minute longer on the treadmill.
In both examples, instant gratification (the extra slice of pizza, stopping your run on time) are what you want in the moment, but what you’re pushing yourself to do—to not eat that extra slice, and to go that extra minute—represents delayed gratification, and what you know will be most beneficial to you over the long term.
Examples of Delayed Gratification
Here are some examples of ways in which we can delay gratification, including a look at the most famous example out there.
The Marshmallow Test
The Stanford marshmallow experiment is a famous study on delayed gratification that took place under the lead of Walter Mischel at Stanford University, Palo Alto, in 1972.
The basis of the study was offering a child one small reward that they could have immediately, or two small rewards that they could have if they were willing to wait for it. After being told of their choices, each child was left alone in a room with their desired reward (a marshmallow or pretzel stick) for 15 minutes.
The experiment concluded that the children who were able to delay gratification by holding out from eating their desired reward for the period in which they were left alone in a room with it are more ly to have “better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.” (When the experiment was replicated at ten times the scale and with a more diverse sample population, the results were only half as conclusive as to the benefits of delayed gratification. It has been suggested that economic background, rather than a need for greater impulse control, was the cause of this difference.)
Everyday Examples of Delaying Gratification
Of course, examples of delayed gratification come up throughout our lives, some of which we are aware of in the moment, others not so much. Here are some everyday examples of delayed gratification:
- When you’re cooking dinner, choosing to not snack (even if you really want to) as you know your meal will be that much more gratifying if you wait;
- If you’re studying for an exam but really want to check your phone or watch television, tell yourself you can do those things as much as you , once you’re done studying;
- When you’re at the gym, if there’s one piece of exercise equipment that you prefer to use over the others, wait until just before the end of your workout to use it;
- If you enjoy a special coffee drink from your favorite coffee shop, tell yourself you can get one only after you have worked hard for the first hour or two of the day;
- When you enter (or re-enter) the job market, tell yourself you can have the rest of the day off, guilt-free, only after you have applied to 5-10 jobs that day.
Improve Your Ability to Delay Gratification
Learning how to delay gratification and control your impulses is easier said than done, but when you follow the below tips you will start to see some immediate improvements:
- Give yourself a precise timeframe: When working on your ability to delay gratification, give yourself a precise countdown until the time at which you can be gratified (eat a snack, stop working out, check your phone, etc.) so you can work toward it.
- Reward yourself for small wins: While not snacking while making dinner may not feel something you should be rewarded for doing, doing so in the beginning can be a great way to make delaying gratification seem more palatable.
- Make promises to yourself, and never break them: The reason some of us struggle with delayed vs. instant gratification is because with instant gratification you can be sure of what you’re going to get, whereas with delayed gratification you need to trust that the gratification will come eventually. For this reason, never break promises to yourself.
Learning to delay gratification promotes a host of healthy behaviors in children and adults that we can take forward with us for the rest of our lives. Delayed gratification may not have the same aura or appeal as instant gratification, but it will set you up for a happy and healthy life.
If you’re interested in hearing more from me, be sure to subscribe to my free email newsletter, and if you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media, link to it from your website, or bookmark it so you can come back to it often. ∎
Benjamin Spall is the co-author of My Morning Routine (Portfolio/Penguin). He has written for outlets including the New York Times, New York Observer, Quartz, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, CNBC, and more.
Spall, B. (2019, November 23). How to Delay Gratification and Control Your Impulses. Retrieved from https://benjaminspall.com/delayed-gratification/
How to Master Delayed Gratification to Control Your Impulses
Last Updated on November 4, 2021
Right now, you could eat a donut, book a trip to Tahiti, and tell your boss to buzz off. However, you don’t do these things because at some level, you understand the value of self-control and delayed gratification.
Delayed gratification means saying “no” to something you want in the moment in exchange for a greater benefit or reward later. It involves putting off pleasure, especially when indulging in that pleasure would have adverse consequences down the road.
But how do experts define “delayed gratification,” and more importantly, how can you use it to improve your self-control and become more productive?
Encyclopedia Britannica defines “delay of gratification” as:
“the act of resisting an impulse to take an immediately available reward in the hope of obtaining a more-valued reward in the future.”
Let’s break that definition into two parts. First, delayed gratification requires us to resist an immediate urge. Second, it is moderated by beliefs and so requires that we have reason to believe we’ll gain something if we do.
Situations that fulfill only a single part of that definition do not call for delayed gratification. There’s no reason to resist the impulse to run from an angry tiger, nor is there reason to put off a momentary pleasure that’s adaptive or healthy, such as laughing at a friend’s funny story.
The concept of delayed gratification is best known in association with psychologist Walter Mischel’s marshmallow test.
In the 1960s, a Stanford psychologist named Walter Mischel set up an experiment. He placed a marshmallow in front of children between the ages of 3 and 5 before he left the room.
Although they could eat the treat at any time, Mischel’s team told the children they’d earn even more treats if they waited to eat the marshmallow until the researchers returned.
What did Mischel discover?
The young children who showed a tendency to delay gratification and wait longer to eat the marshmallow fared better in life. Compared to the kids who ate it right away, they earned better grades in schools, were more ly to go to college, enjoyed greater self-confidence, and were less ly to struggle with drug problems later in life.
You can learn more about that landmark experiments Mischel’s team did in this TED Talk with Joachim De Posada:
That’s the power of delayed gratification, but it’s not just important for children. Adults who practice delayed gratification are better able to achieve what they want in life.
Why Delayed Gratification Is Essential
The ability to delay gratification reveals emotional intelligence, and this can take you a long way in life. As the old quote goes,
“The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.”
Genuine, lasting success and satisfaction only come as a result of putting in the right kind of work first.
It’s easy enough to dream up what you want your life to look and feel , but it’s entirely different to create a mental framework and then execute when and where you need to.
Benefits of Delayed Gratification
Without question, it’s amazing to get something you want immediately. But if this is the case, why should you still practice delayed gratification? Here’s a look at its benefits.
One of the best ways you can improve your health is through practicing proper nutrition. However, this can’t be achieved in just a day. You need to practice delayed gratification to keep yourself from getting delicious yet unhealthy treats all the time so your body can feel better in the long run.
It will enable you to acquire new skills
Delaying satisfaction is no easy feat. In the process, you’ll feel dissatisfied, and even jealous of other people. However, most skills cannot be learned in a short span of time. When you practice delayed gratification instead of giving up, you can master more skills that will help you in your professional and personal life.
It sets you up for financial security
What is your ultimate financial goal? Do you want to save up for a house? Or maybe you want to build your emergency fund? Whatever it is, practicing instant gratification constantly will get you nowhere. When you constantly spend money instead of aligning your financial habits with your goals, you’ll end up with money problems.
It can help you at work
Delayed gratification is immensely helpful when it comes to your career. For instance, if you want to get promoted, you can’t possibly expect your boss to promote you or give you a raise after doing one good task. It takes months and years of delayed gratification to develop and improve your skills so you can become a good leader.
How to Master Delayed Gratification for Productivity
Delayed gratification is a great way to optimize your productivity, but before you find out ho w to do this, you first need to understand the concept of delayed gratification more.
To convince yourself to put in a little extra work now for a better outcome down the road, practice the following.
1. Know Your Goals
Without a reason to delay gratification, you’ll struggle to do it. Think through which long term goals you want to achieve and what you can do to get there. It could be:
Have you always wanted to run a marathon? If so, you’ll need to train for it. Although it’s tempting to sit on your couch and watch television, delayed gratification is what gets you to lace up your sneakers.
Nearly 90% of Millennials say they would to own their own home, but two-thirds of them will need to spend two decades saving up for it. Putting a little money away each month — despite the fact that you’d rather spend it on vacations or dinners out — is a matter of delayed gratification.
No employer is going to hand you your dream job simply because you want it; you have to work for it. Spending four years going to college, attending tedious seminars, and practicing your craft in your free time are all examples of delayed gratification.
Friendships are not formed in a minute. If you want more friends or deeper friendships, you’ll need to invest in them. Delayed gratification might lead you to take a connection out to lunch, learn more about a shared interest, or volunteer for a cause he or she cares about.
When you’re frustrated with a family member, you might be tempted to snap at him/her. How do you resist that temptation? Delayed gratification. When you love a person, you owe them your patience.
The big questions of life can only be answered with self-reflection and study. Looking deeply into yours elf or reading religious texts can be uncomfortable. The reason you do them anyway is delayed gratification: You know you’ll be happier once you build out your belief set.
2. Think Through “What If” Scenarios
Typically, the best decision becomes clear when you look down the road. One of the oldest and best tools for doing this is called a decision tree. Decision trees allow you to visualize the follow-on effects of each choice. You can see a very basic example of a decision tree below.
Say your car breaks down. Should you repair it, or should you buy a new one? In a decision tree, you might start with cost: Can you make a down payment without taking out a loan? If not, you might decide against buying a new car.
But should you go for a temporary fix, such as adding oil every week to a leaking engine, or a permanent one, replacing an engine gasket?
Delayed gratification is a good guide at both levels. You put yourself in the best position to save money by not just keeping your car, but also by opting for the less expensive solution.
3. Use Tools to Take Away Temptations
Delayed gratification is particularly important when you have a job to do. Sure, it might be more fun to scroll through than make that next sales call, but you can’t afford to waste your workday.
Technology can get in the way, but it can also keep you on task. You can actually block apps and set limits for yourself. Not only can keeping yourself from accessing between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. make you more productive, but it can help you enjoy your evening social media time more.
4. Get an Accountability Partner
If you’re married, you and your partner probably share your finances. Why not leverage that partnership to make delayed gratification easier?
Start by setting ground rules. What expenses, exactly, are you worried about? Do you tend to shop for random gadgets when you’re stressed?
If so, decide when it’s appropriate to purchase gadgets and when it’s not. Agree on consequences in case you slip up, and ask your partner to hold you accountable. Perhaps you’ll make up for unnecessary purchases by not going out to eat that week.
You can find an accountability partner in almost any context. At work, you have colleagues. If you go to church, you sit next to someone who can encourage you to attend sermons.
5. Reward Yourself for Following Through
Inherent to delayed gratification is some benefit you earn by doing the hard work upfront. If you struggle with delayed gratification, you can make it easier by giving yourself a little something extra.
You don’t have to use time-consuming or monetary rewards. You could simply watch a movie, play an online game, or go on a hike.
Why Is Delayed Gratification So Hard?
When you take Mischel’s marshmallow experiment into consideration, it may seem easy to practice delayed gratification and ego control since the only reward involved is a marshmallow.
Unfortunately, this could not be mirrored in all aspects of real life. People love working towards things that are certain, and this is exactly what makes delayed gratification so challenging.
Freudian psychoanalysis suggests that people instinctively seek pleasure to avoid pain so they can satisfy their biological and physical needs. According to Sigmund Freud, this principle is the driving force behind the id, which is the most basic part of every human being. Considering this, pleasure is vital for survival.
People make thousands of decisions per day. However, it’s hard to work towards something where the promised rewards cannot be obtained in 4 weeks, 4 months, or even 40 years.
Additionally, the preferences of people are malleable. What you want to work for today may mean very little for you in a week’s time. But although no one is perfect enough to resist all the temptation of instant gratification, the ability to wait and practice impulse control to pursue a long term reward is no doubt an integral part of success.
Delayed gratification should not get in the way of self-care. By giving yourself small treats here and there, you can control yourself when it’s tempting to indulge in something you know you should not.
Mastering the ability to delay gratification is difficult, but you can do it. Use these tips to put aside temptation, which can make you happier, healthier, and more productive. And when in doubt, don’t eat the marshmallow.
Featured photo credit: Aron Visuals via unsplash.com
What is delayed gratification and why is it so important in life
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In today’s day and age of one click purchases and immediately accessible information, instant gratification is seen as the norm.
The always-on world, with smartphones and Wi-Fi, reinforces that you have to get what you want right away. But instant gratification 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.
The truth is, it’s not realistic to get everything you want, much less get it immediately. Instant gratification is actually a source of frustration – it creates false expectations. By learning to employ delayed gratification, you buy time to strategize thoughtfully and learn from your failures. But what is delayed gratification? And how can you build this essential skill?
Achieve your goals faster by delaying gratification
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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. It’s linked to impulse control: Those with high impulse control typically excel at delayed gratification. However, delayed gratification is also a skill that you can develop.
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. This is delayed gratification.
The ability to hold out now for a better reward later is an essential life skill. Delayed gratification allows you to do things forgo large purchases to save for a vacation, skip dessert to lose weight or take a job you don’t love but that will help your career later on.
In the 1960s, Stanford professor Walter Mischel created one of the best delayed gratification examples. He tested hundreds of young children by placing each child in a private room, accompanied only by a single marshmallow placed on the table.
Researchers then offered each child a deal: If the child refrained from eating the marshmallow while researchers briefly left the room, the child would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.
But if the child ate the first marshmallow, there would be no second one.
The results of the so-called “Marshmallow Experiment” underscored the difficulty humans of any age have with delayed gratification. Some children ate the first marshmallow immediately. Others tried to restrain themselves but eventually gave in. Only a few children managed to hold out for the two-marshmallow reward.
Researchers followed the Marshmallow Experiment participants into adulthood over a span of 40 years. Un the children who caved to temptation, the children who delayed their reward were far more successful in almost all areas of life.
They scored higher on standardized tests, were healthier, responded better to stress, had fewer substance abuse issues and demonstrated better social skills.
This delayed gratification example proved that it is pivotal to success in almost every facet of life.
The ability to delay gratification is a learned behavior in children – and adults, too, can train their brains to wait.
Researchers at the University of Rochester wanted to dig deeper into the question, “What is delayed gratification?” They followed up on the famous Marshmallow Experiment with a new group of children and an important twist. They split the children into two groups prior to the marshmallow test.
For the first group, researchers promised rewards crayons and stickers, but the rewards never materialized. For the second group, the rewards materialized as promised.
The children in the first group struggled with delayed gratification, because they’d been conditioned to believe the reward wouldn’t actually occur. They had no reason to wait, since evidence had never given them cause to trust the researchers. For those of us working to embrace delayed gratification as a life skill, there are several valuable lessons to be learned from these kids.
The children who received prizes as promised had unknowingly trained their brains to believe that (1) they were capable of delaying gratification and (2) delayed gratification was worth the wait.
These kids’ ability to postpone pleasure was not predetermined or genetic – it was a learned behavior. That means you can train your brain to delay gratification in a number of different situations.
Skills impulse control and long-term thinking are essential to achieving your goals throughout life. Here are some examples of delayed gratification in different areas of your life.
- Resist the impulse to start a fight or react angrily to your partner, and instead use your communication skills to find a constructive solution.
- Put your phone down – resisting the instant gratification of social media or texting – and be fully present with your partner.
- Resist the desire to marathon Netflix or scroll through social media, and instead use your N.E.T. time to gain skills or knowledge that will advance your career.
- Delay the gratification of a night out or a late happy hour, in favor of being well-rested and prepared for a big presentation.
- Instead of giving in to the instant gratification of eating that piece of cake, delay your gratification and reap the reward of vitality and energy later.
- Resist the comfort, certainty and instant gratification you get from an easy workout. Find your workout inspiration and earn the delayed gratification of health benefits.
- Delay the gratification of purchasing something you don’t absolutely need, and earn the long-term reward of having more savings and financial freedom.
- You may not get instant returns when you make investments, but the delayed gratification is even greater as you compound your money.
If you want to develop self-control, it might be tempting to build as much “muscle” as possible by denying yourself anything pleasurable. You might even be tempted to up the ante by denying yourself a reward you’d promised yourself.
But when you take the approach of tricking yourself, it backfires, because your brain looks for consistency to guide its decisions. Be reliable with yourself, and follow through on your promises. These four tips will get you started.
To orient your brain toward delayed gratification, start small. Create a goal so easy you can’t refuse it, waiting three minutes before eating dessert. Next time, improve by one percent – or in this case, you can improve by 33% and wait for four minutes. Incremental progress lets you build confidence with each small goal you achieve.
2. Make rules
You can also use delayed gratification as a “rule” for certain parts of your life where you may lack self control. If you’re a shopaholic, make a rule that you must wait three days – or a week – to buy that jacket you saw online. Or, make a rule that if you’ve spent more than five minutes debating a purchase, you don’t make it.
3. Practice gratitude
Reminding yourself of all that you have is a very effective way to train your brain to accept delayed gratification.
When you think of all the clothes you’re already lucky enough to have or the perfectly good car you own, you realize you don’t need that new stuff you’ve been coveting.
Instead of being disappointed you’re having a salad for lunch instead of a burger, be grateful that you have food to nourish your body. Delayed gratification comes naturally when you practice gratitude.
4. Remind yourself of your goals
What is delayed gratification for if not the ability to reach your biggest goals and dreams? You’re putting off that purchase to save for a home or retirement, and you’re having salad instead of that burger so that you can achieve the body of your dreams and have more energy. Keep a picture of your goal on your phone – you can even set it as your wallpaper – to remind yourself what you’re working toward. It will make delayed gratification that much easier.
There is a big difference between instant gratification vs. delayed gratification – one leads to short-term rewards that feel good in the moment but wear off quickly, while the other is a long-term life skill.
Instant gratification happens when you give in to your desires and get a boost of “happy hormones” dopamine and endorphins.
Delayed gratification is a strategy for reaching your goals and finding long-term fulfillment.
It’s proven that delayed gratification is a learned behavior. While some humans have better impulse control than others, which is related to delayed gratification, you can still take steps to change your mindset. You can work on your impulse control and train your brain to accept a larger reward later on, rather than taking the immediate reward.
There are several strategies you can work on that will help you increase your ability to wait for delayed gratification. Start small. Delay gratification for only a short amount of time, then increase the time incrementally.
You can also make rules regarding purchases, such as giving yourself a “waiting period” between when you see something you and when you buy it.
Finally, don’t forget to practice gratitude and remind yourself of your goals – there’s a reason you want delayed gratification.
According to Freud’s “pleasure principle,” it’s hardwired into us.
Instant gratification is the “id” (Freud’s name for instinctual desire) seeking immediate pleasure and is especially noticeable in children, who act on urges for food, water and play instinctively.
As we mature, we must develop delayed gratification skills in social situations – you wouldn’t grab a stranger’s snack just because you’re hungry. Yet the id persists in many parts of our lives, making dieting, saving money and other long-term goals difficult.
What is delayed gratification? It’s a valuable skill that takes practice and commitment to build. Get the support you need to overcome obstacles with a special trial offer on Tony Robbins’ Ultimate Edge.