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How to Use Delayed Gratification to Your Advantage

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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The concept of “now” has never been more prominent in today’s fast-paced world. We have grown accustomed to instant gratification, whether it is the one-click convenience of online shopping, streaming our favorite shows on demand, or scrolling through social media for instant entertainment.

However, while modern technology has provided us with numerous conveniences, it has also trained us to expect immediate rewards and responses, resulting in decreased productivity and a lower likelihood of long-term success.

Instant gratification, or the desire for immediate pleasure or fulfillment, has subtly altered our behavior, making us more impulsive and less capable of making sound decisions. As we navigate this “on-demand” culture, it becomes increasingly important to look into the practice of delayed gratification—the art of foregoing immediate gratification in favor of larger, more meaningful outcomes later.

In this article, we will discuss the significance of delayed gratification and practical steps to developing this powerful skill.

What Is Delayed Gratification?

Delayed gratification is a psychological concept that refers to the ability to resist the temptation of an immediate reward in favor of a larger or more valuable reward in the future.[1] It is also known as impulse control or self-control.

The “Pleasure Principle,”[2] a psychological theory put forth by Sigmund Freud that asserts that people are inherently wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, forms the basis of this idea. According to this principle, humans are motivated by the desire for immediate gratification, such as hunger and thirst, for survival purposes. Applying this principle in today’s world, however, can result in impulsive behavior and decision-making that puts short-term pleasures like snacking ahead of long-term goals like getting in shape.

instant gratification

    There are many examples of delayed gratification in everyday life:

    • Resisting the temptation to eat unhealthy foods and sticking to a balanced diet and exercise routine to maintain physical health and achieve fitness goals
    • Choosing to save money and make prudent financial decisions over impulsive purchases, resulting in a more secure financial future and the achievement of long-term financial goals
    • Investing time and effort in learning new skills, taking on difficult projects, and networking, even if it means making short-term sacrifices, in order to advance careers and achieve professional success
    • Choosing not to engage in recreational activities such as watching TV or playing video games in order to study for exams and achieve higher grades
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    Several years ago, our team intentionally practiced delayed gratification after realizing that we had fallen into the trap of instant gratification when our business strategy was to increase the number of likes and shares on our articles.

    We made it a priority at the time to create content that would be popular on social media platforms. As a result, we overlooked the long-term goal of our articles, which was to help people grow and become more productive.

    Because we were focused on short-term rewards like likes and shares, we created content that was trendy or relatable to readers rather than providing perspectives and information that would actually shift people’s mindsets and make them better. By focusing on instant gratification, we were impeding our ability to achieve our mission of helping people to improve their productivity and reach their full potential.

    We quickly realized that we were not serving our audience to the best of our abilities. Therefore, we changed our approach to put more emphasis on producing useful content that would actually benefit our audience, even if it didn’t get as many likes or shares (delaying gratification).

    This shift in focus has allowed us to stay true to our mission while also growing our community of productivity enthusiasts.

    The Importance of Delaying Gratification

    The ability to delay gratification implies exercising self-control and consciously choosing to forego immediate pleasure in exchange for greater future benefits.[3]

    People who have good self-control are more likely to focus on long-term goals, which allows them to accomplish more and feel more fulfilled. This is why resisting fleeting temptations can lead to more significant and meaningful long-term rewards.

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    Greater Success

    Delayed gratification is a type of self-control training that helps people set and achieve long-term goals. By resisting immediate temptations, you can prioritize your goals and stay focused on what is truly important to you.

    The classic “marshmallow experiment,”[4] conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel in 1972, demonstrates the benefits of delayed gratification. In this study, children were given the option of receiving one marshmallow right away or waiting a short time for two marshmallows.

    The researchers followed up with the participants years later and discovered that children who were able to delay gratification (i.e., wait for the two marshmallows) outperformed those who chose the immediate reward in terms of academic performance, emotional regulation, and overall success in life.

    Improved Health

    Delayed gratification improves overall well-being by encouraging healthy decision-making and behavior. For instance, people are more likely to maintain their physical health and lower their risk of chronic illnesses if they practice self-control in their dietary decisions and resist the urge to overindulge in junk food.[5] Similarly, choosing regular exercise over sedentary leisure activities can result in long-term benefits such as improved physical health and increased energy levels.

    Furthermore, practicing delaying gratification can help you improve your emotional regulation skills. By resisting immediate impulses, you learn to manage your emotions and avoid making rash decisions fueled by frustration, anger, or fleeting desires. This ability to regulate emotions leads to better relationships, more effective conflict resolution, and greater emotional well-being overall.[6]

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    Boost Your Self-Worth and Confidence

    Delaying gratification requires self-control, focus, and determination. When you can resist immediate temptations while remaining committed to your long-term goals, you gain a sense of mastery and competence in your ability to regulate your behavior. This sense of control over your actions reinforces self-efficacy—the belief in one’s own ability to complete tasks and succeed.

    The practice of delayed gratification often entails overcoming obstacles, setbacks, and challenges. As you persevere through these challenges and stay focused on your long-term goals, you develop resilience and adaptability. Overcoming obstacles and demonstrating the ability to adapt to changing circumstances boosts confidence and fosters inner strength.

    As you can see the benefits of your self-control and discipline by making deliberate decisions and delaying gratification, you will be more confident in your own abilities.

    How to Practice Delayed Gratification

    Delaying gratification is a skill that can be learned.[7] Here are some practical steps to help you master delayed gratification:

    1. Identify Your Goals

    Defining your goals provides you with a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and why it is important to you. This clarity helps you in staying focused on your goals and avoiding distractions or temptations that do not align with your goals.

    When you have a thorough understanding of your goals and the benefits of achieving them, you are more likely to make decisions that will contribute to your long-term success. The desire to achieve your goals acts as a powerful motivator to forego immediate gratification in favor of future rewards.

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    Start by setting up a SMARTer goal, that is not only specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound, but also delves into why you want to achieve it.

    Engage in mental visualization exercises in which you imagine yourself having achieved your goals — picture the positive outcomes, emotions, and benefits that come with success. Visualization can help you stay motivated, especially when you’re tempted by instant gratification.

    2. Eliminate Temptations

    Temptations and distractions always cause impulsive behavior, leading people to seek immediate gratification or pleasure. By proactively eliminating or reducing your exposure to these triggers, you will be better able to resist impulsive urges and make deliberate decisions that align with your long-term goals.

    Learn how to overcome distractions here.

    3. Break Down Challenges into Doable Tasks

    Large and complex tasks can easily become overwhelming, resulting in procrastination or avoidance. You can reduce feelings of overwhelm and approach your goals with greater confidence and control by breaking down challenges into smaller, more manageable tasks.

    Learn how to break down large assignments into manageable chunks in How to Break Down a Large Project into Manageable Tasks

    4. Celebrate Small Wins

    On the way to a more ambitious goal, small wins act as checkpoints. Recognizing and celebrating these achievements increases motivation and morale. The sense of accomplishment gained from these small wins helps to sustain motivation even when confronted with obstacles or temptations.

    Small wins also provide positive reinforcement by validating the effort and discipline required to delay gratification. This reinforcement encourages you to keep making decisions that prioritize long-term goals over immediate gratification.

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    Learn more about celebrating small victories in How to Celebrate Small Wins to Achieve Big Goals.

    5. Practice Mindfulness

    Mindfulness practice heightens self-awareness,[8] allowing you to become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and impulses. This increased awareness allows you to recognize the desire for instant gratification and make conscious decisions about how to respond to it.

    Mindfulness also promotes a sense of calm and clarity, which reduces the likelihood of making rash decisions.[9] You can cultivate a mindful presence by pausing, reflecting, and considering the long-term consequences of your actions before acting on immediate desires.

    Furthermore, because stress and strong emotions frequently trigger the desire for immediate gratification as a coping mechanism, mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing and meditation help regulate these emotions,[10] allowing you to respond to challenges with greater calm and intention.

    Here are a few methods for practicing mindfulness:

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    Personally, I find that spending 15 minutes a day doing deep breathing exercises is very beneficial. It truly relaxes and clears my mind, allowing me to make more informed decisions.

    Mastering delayed gratification is a never-ending process that requires practice and self-awareness, but the rewards are well worth the effort. You can improve your ability to delay gratification and stay focused on long-term goals by implementing the above strategies.


    Delayed gratification is a powerful skill that can have a significant impact on the course of our lives. Whether it’s ensuring financial stability, cultivating healthy relationships, or advancing our careers, the art of delaying gratification serves as a guiding principle for achieving our goals and realizing our potential.

    We can unlock the potential for greater success, fulfillment, and well-being by cultivating the ability to resist immediate temptations and prioritize long-term goals. The practice of delayed gratification not only improves our self-control and self-discipline, but it also allows us to make informed decisions that align with our core values and aspirations.

    As we navigate the complexities of modern life, it is critical to recognize that our choices today shape our future outcomes. So I encourage you to start small and take gradual steps toward mastering delayed gratification. Begin with small, everyday decisions and work your way up.


    Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

    How to Use Delayed Gratification to Your Advantage

    Delayed gratification is the ability to resist the temptation of an immediate reward in favor of a larger or more valuable reward in the future. It is also known as impulse control or self-control.

    Delaying gratification enables people to achieve greater success in life by focusing on long-term goals with larger rewards rather than being tempted by immediate gratification.

    When you can resist immediate temptations while remaining committed to your long-term goals, you gain a sense of mastery and competence in your ability to regulate your behavior. This sense of control over your actions boosts self-confidence.

    Delaying gratification is a skill that can be learned and honed over time.

    You can practice delaying gratification by 1. Defining your goals, 2. Eliminating tempations, 3. Breaking down challenges into doable tasks, 4. Celebrating small wins, and 5. Practicing mindfulness.

    Featured photo credit: Aron Visuals via unsplash.com


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