How do you stay ahead in a world where systems and standards appear to change overnight? How do you remain competent and original in a job market where it seems more credentials are required every year? How do you actually finish your best work in a world, where people often barely start? Most of all, how do you ensure you can look back on life and know for a fact you’ve lived life to the fullest? Science shows us there’s only one skill needed to be successful in life: delayed gratification.
Yes, it’s true; countless newspapers and online publications have covered delayed gratification for years now. This may lead you to wonder why I’m covering the topic at all. While many papers and articles have detailed the scientific studies themselves, as well as direct quotes from researchers, few posts on delayed gratification actually equip the reader with concise and actionable tips for everyday use. This article will not only express how crucial delayed gratification really is but will also break down the larger components into bite-sized pieces of practicality.
Where Delayed Gratification Became Famous?
The concept of delayed gratification is best known in association with psychologist Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment. At Stanford University in the 1960s, Mischel and his students used marshmallows to determine how well children could embody patience and hold off for a better option in the future. Kids were given the choice to eat one marshmallow now, or wait 15-20 minutes alone and receive a second marshmallow, simply for being patient. Straightforward to understand, but not exactly easy to execute (at least, not for all children).
The results and follow-up results have been widely published and circulated ever since, documenting that the kids who delayed gratification have done better in virtually all areas of life ever since. The children who waited for the second marshmallow abused substances less frequently, achieved better grades, experienced greater health and proper weight ranges, built stronger social skills, and had a smoother time handling stress. Patience is a virtue in and of itself, but as Mischel’s experiment proved, patience offers an individual a whole host of long-lasting benefits.
Here’s Why Delayed Gratification Is Essential
At its core, why is delayed gratification so powerful and essential? The ability to delay gratification reveals emotional intelligence and these two traits can take you long way in life. More specifically, delaying gratification shows that you recognize a better result is available after a certain amount or type of work is put in. 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 like, but it’s entirely different to create a mental framework and then execute when and where you need to. Below, let’s look at three tips on how to optimize your use of delayed gratification.
- What’s the situation I’m faced with?
Getting clarity on the dilemma in front of you will help you assess whether your challenge is really worth it. To be honest with yourself from the outset, and determine if a challenge is worthwhile or not, is the best decision you can make. Look at what the end goal is, take stock of the work required and then decide if you know you’re up for it or not.
- Do I really want this result?
If you’ve found a challenge that leads to a highly desirable result, you know it’s time to make a battle plan. Anything worth having comes at a cost, so here’s where we get tactical.
In Mischel’s experiment and subsequent imitations, the children who remained patient often crafted games or tricks to play on themselves to be successful. Some sang a song, others “danced” in their chair, and some even played with the marshmallow without eating it. Regardless of the choice of distraction, the kids found a way to “make time shorter”. They employed some kind of method that made the waiting far easier.
It’s your job to do the same, no matter what your obstacle is. The people who are most successful with their goals are those who find methods of making the work more enjoyable by itself.
- What kind of rewards do I associate hard work with?
In his absolutely mind-blowing article, ‘Self-Improvement’, author Brian Kim highlights an oft-overlooked aspect of delayed gratification. He points out that the real way to grasp the core of delayed gratification is to look not at the reward structure, but at the work structure. In other words, when someone emotionally deploys delayed gratification, it’s because they first mentally sized up the work in front of them. Kim points out that delayed gratification users “associate hard work with high rewards.”
In order to utilize delayed gratification on the deepest level possible, it’s important to see the work required as a sacrifice that invariably produces an extremely desirable result. It’s not always about focusing on the reward; it’s about enjoying the work that is already necessary.