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Delayed gratification is one of the most effective personal traits of successful people. People that delay gratification are more successful with their career, relationships, health, finances and really, all areas of life.

How important is your health to you? What about security of purchasing your own home? Perhaps having a successful career is what you’re after? Whatever you’re trying to achieve, one thing is for certain…

The power of delayed gratification is an essential element of being able to reach your ultimate goal. Whether it be saving now to spend later, choosing healthy to get energy later, or putting up with a job to help boost your career later. These examples plus more are all areas where delayed gratification can bring about tremendous returns while developing your willpower. Let’s explore the power of delayed gratification.

Delayed Gratification Defined

Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is a pretty simple concept. It is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

The power of delayed gratification is best know from the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, a study conducted by Professor Walter Mischel at Stanford University. In this experiment, Mischel studied a group of four to six-year-old children who were given a marshmallow and left in a room for fifteen minutes. They were given the choice of being able to eat the marshmallow now, or if they were to wait the fifteen minutes, they will be able to have two marshmallows. Ultimately, some children were able to wait the fifteen minutes, whilst others just couldn’t do it…. Or should I say, “Wouldn’t do it”.

The study didn’t finish there however. Researchers continued to study the development of the children into adolescents. They found that those children that were able to delay gratification were psychologically better-adjusted, more dependable persons, more self-motivated, and as high school students, scored significantly better with grades. With the latest study conducted on these exact same participants in 2011, the research has shown that the characteristic has remained with the individuals for life.

The study shows that delaying gratification is a choice of the individual. You can choose to have something now, or you can choose to have something bigger or better later. Delaying gratification improves your willpower and ultimately helps you reach your longer-term goals faster. Lets now take a look at some specific examples where delaying gratification can have a positive impact in your life.

Spend or Save Now?

One of the most common examples of delayed gratification is for a person to be able to save their money now to be able to purchase a more desirable product in the future. For example, you want to purchase a new car for twenty thousand dollars and at this stage you only have a quarter of that in cash, so what do you do? Start saving! Simple! Or is it? This is where the power of delayed gratification meets will power. You will constantly be challenged on a daily basis with opportunities for you to spend money… for that coffee, for that lunch, for that movie, for that dress, for that gadget, for that gift you want whatever that thing may be! You have a choice every single time you have your wallet out. Do you go out with friends that invited you to that party at a bar, or do you have a number of alcoholic drinks that night, or do you decide to drink water and save that money, or not go out at all, and know that you would be a day closer to buying that dream car? Many people are often surprised by the amount of money that they can save now simply by making smarter choices with their finances, to help them with more desirable purchases in the future. For example, do you REALLY need the branded $10 laundry liquid, or will the cheaper liquid of $3 do just a good of a job? Been there done that!

To help reach your financial goals, start thinking through what really matters most… spending now for a small gratification, or saving now for that much larger pleasure in the future. I know, some of you are probably thinking, you need to live and enjoy life!! I’m not saying become a hermit, a scrooge or a cheapskate, what I suggest is just be more mindful of it and become more frugal, that’s all!

 Follow the same beaten path or Take the Riskier Path?

Linked in with the above “spend now or spend later” mindset is, another form of delayed gratification but it is to actually “spend money”. Hahaha! Confused yet!! What I mean is to spend money to give you gratification now, but with the PURPOSE of delaying gratification. Ok, let me explain. This is where risk comes into the equation of delaying gratification, and hence it is called the “entrepreneurial way” of spending money. To illustrate this, lets say someone wants to purchase a property for $250,000, instead of saving now to spend later, they invest now, taking on risk that their investment may go down or it may go up, delaying their gratification but with the intention to get to that gratification faster. Another example is having the ultimate goal of running your own business and financially being independent. A person wanting to achieve this would need to spend now, take on risk to establish their business, work hard putting in long hours, perhaps at the expense of sleep, relationships, health, however, they are delaying a gratification which is ultimately of highest importance to them. Once they go through the hard yards and come out the other side with a successful business, the reward will be MUCH greater than what they would have achieved otherwise.

Eat the Chips or the Apple?

Health is another area where delaying gratification can have significant benefits. The Western world today is witnessing an obesity epidemic like never before. A common reason to this is the simple willpower and choices people are making in their everyday lives, without delaying gratification. This hits home…since I have packed on a few pounds, that I need to lose myself and it has not been the easiest for me this time around.

To illustrate this, lets say your hungry… you probably are right now lol. And what do you feel like? Many people when eating snacks or eating daily foods prefer to eat the stuff that tastes good, normally full of fats and sugars. By delaying gratification and choosing for the more healthy option, the glass of water over the can of soda, you will reap the rewards of delayed gratification by being more healthy in your life, have less illness and have more energy to live your life to its fullest. And heck, you’ll probably be surprised at how many healthier foods will actually give you instant gratification too!! Since there are times I’m sure that you have felt like crap after binging on junk right?

Similar to the above, many people do not like to exercise or go to the gym; this is seen as work, especially after a long da, but something that MUST be done! Try the concept of delayed gratification. Go through the hard yards of sweat and tears now to be able to live a healthy and energetic life, all while looking good too! Hint, get it out of the way early in the morning…then you don’t have an excuse when you get home from work that you are tired.

Boring or Exciting Job Now?

Now here is another interesting one. This illustration is to show that depending on what your ultimate goal is, putting up with some harder experiences in your life right now might be the best thing you can do long-term. Lets say you are wanting to be the best operation manager the world has ever seen, to ultimately get to this goal you may need to put up with some pretty boring or less-interesting roles to start with, so you can build your fundamental understanding of what it is you need to know to run the operations of a company. As hard or as boring as it may be, it might just be the best thing you can do to help you get to that depth of understanding that you need. I have always believed in learning all facets of a company or position, that way you gain the knowledge and experience to run the full operation. I used to love to “pivot” in different positions; it helped me become more complete in a sense to be able to tackle anything after that. That is why I have done it with many of my employees, they may not understand it now, when there is a need, they will know why they can be put anywhere and understand that they are now a real asset, rather than a liability.

Oh, So What?

Honestly, I could go on for forever with examples of delayed gratification. But it basically comes down to… every choice we make in our lives has consequences which lead to a level of gratification being felt now, versus a level of gratification being felt later. Now with a better understanding of the power of delayed gratification, you will be able to make even more consistent choices to help you reach your ultimate goals.

Ultimately, delaying gratification is making a choice that enhances your willpower, and helps you reach your bigger goal at a later time. How do you suppose Olympians live their lives? Through years of hard work, sweat and tears with the vision of delaying their ultimate gratification, performing well at the Olympics, being recognized for it, perhaps using it as a launching pad for a future career. Be an Olympian of your own life!

5 Key Steps to help Delay Gratification

1. Know Your Why

Ensure you have clearly defined goals. When you know your values and your why, and what is important to you, you are able to make choices that lead you to happiness and success. What is it that you want to achieve exactly? Having a clear understanding of what you want to achieve longer-term can help you make a choice in delaying gratification to help you reach your ultimate goal.

2. Create a Plan

When you understand your values and know what you want to achieve, creating a plan to help you get there can remind you of the choices you need to make along the way and reinforce the process of delaying gratification. Plan your work, and work your plan.

3. Develop a plan for when you fail

A popular strength and conditioning coach, often tell his athletes, “You’re not good enough to be disappointed.” The same is true when you build a new habit. What were you expecting?

To succeed without fail from the very beginning? (Yup some of us think that way, I’m guilty as charged)

To be perfect even when people who have been doing this for years make mistakes on a regular basis?

I’m not saying, plan to fail, I’m saying, be prepared. You have to learn to not judge yourself or feel guilty when you make a mistake, and instead focus on developing a plan to get back on track as quickly as possible.

This may help… I call it my “Never miss twice.” motto

I find the “never miss twice” mindset to be particularly useful. Maybe I’ll miss one workout, but I’m not going to miss two in a row. Maybe I’ll eat an entire pizza (holy crap), but I’ll follow it up with a healthy meal. Maybe I’ll forget to meditate today, but tomorrow morning I’ll be oozing with Zen.

Slipping up on your habits doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you normal. What separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track quickly. Make sure you have a plan for when you fail.

4. Prioritize

Being able to prioritize what is important to you and what you want to achieve helps you make the choice to delay gratification. And please understand that its ok to say no to friends, colleagues and family. If they support you in your goals, they will understand that you must prioritize. It doesn’t mean you care less, it just means you need to care for something more now, to be able to share gratification with them later.

5. Reward Yourself

Delaying gratification can be hard work. Depending on what you want to achieve, it may take weeks, months, years, and sometimes even decades. Breaking down your goals and rewarding yourself along the way can remind yourself that delaying gratification is leading you to where you want to go.

So what are your thoughts on this?

Do you delay gratification and what is your reason? What areas in your life do you feel you need instant gratification and find it difficult to delay? What works for you? What strategies do you have for delaying gratification, and what has worked for you in the past?

Would love to get your insight.


All the Best in Life and Success. See you at the top my friends!