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Science Says Delayed Gratification Leads to Success in Life

Science Says Delayed Gratification Leads to Success in Life

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.

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Where Delayed Gratification Became Famous?

The concept of delayed gratification is best known in association with psychologist Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment.[1]

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[2] 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.

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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.

Why Delayed Gratification Is Essential

At its core, why is delayed gratification so powerful and essential? The ability to delay gratification reveals emotional intelligence[3] 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.

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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.

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What Kind of Rewards Do I Associate Hard Work with?

In his absolutely mind-blowing article, ‘Self-Improvement,'[4] 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.”

Final Thoughts

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.

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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Brad Johnson

Top 5 Kindle Author | Author of 10 Books

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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