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Last Updated on May 13, 2020

How to Master Delayed Gratification to Control Your Impulses

How to Master Delayed Gratification to Control Your Impulses

Right now, you could eat a donut, book a trip to Tahiti, and tell your boss to buzz off. Why don’t you? Because at some level, you understand the value of delayed gratification.

Delayed gratification means saying “no” to something you want in the moment in exchange for a greater benefit or reward later. It’s the work of 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?

What Is Delayed Gratification?

Encyclopedia Britannica defines “delay of gratification” as:[1]

“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 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.

Research suggests people who practice delayed gratification benefit in all sorts of ways. In the 1960s, a Stanford psychologist named Walter Mischel set up an experiment.[2] He placed a marshmallow in front of children between the ages of 3 and 5 before leaving 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.

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What did Mischel discover? The children who waited longer to eat the marshmallow fared better in life. Relative to the kids who ate it right away, they earned better grades in schools, were more likely to go to college, enjoyed greater self-confidence, and were less likely to struggle with drug problems later in life.

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.

What Are Examples of Delayed Gratification?

In both personal and professional life, delayed gratification is a smart strategy.

Say you’re starting a business. You know it’s going to be a lot of work, and you have a limited budget. You could hire the best talent now, get the best technology, and rent a sleek office to work out of. Or you could start small, use your existing computer, and set up shop in your basement until you’re bringing in enough revenue to cover office rent.

On one hand, you’ll be less stressed if you spend the money upfront. But on the other hand, you know you’ll need that money for product development. By practicing delayed gratification, you put yourself in a better position for the future.

But you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to benefit from delayed gratification. Think, for example, about what you’ll eat for lunch this afternoon: You could go out to your favorite fast-food restaurant, or you could eat that salad you packed for lunch.

Yes, fast food is inexpensive, and yes, you could always eat your salad another day. But lunches out add up, and your salad won’t be as fresh if you wait to eat it tomorrow. You know, too, that you’ll feel better this afternoon if you eat vegetables rather than a burger and fries.

The most important step in delayed gratification is thinking through the consequences of your choices. Learn to control your impulses, and you’ll be not just healthier and happier, but more productive.

How to Boost Productivity Through Impulse Control

Delayed gratification is a great way to optimize your productivity. To convince yourself to put in a little extra work now for a better outcome down the road:

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1. Know your goals.

Without a reason to delay gratification, you’ll struggle to do it. Think through what you want to achieve and what you can do to get there. It could be:

Personal

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.

Financial

Nearly 90% of Millennials say they would like to own their own home, but two-thirds of them will need to spend two decades saving up for it.[3] 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.

Professional

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.

Social

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.

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Emotional

When you’re frustrated with a family member, you might be tempted to snap at her. Why do you resist that temptation? Delayed gratification. You realize that you love that person, and you owe them your patience.

Spiritual

The big questions of life can only be answered with self-reflection and study. Looking deeply into yourself 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.[4] Decision trees allow you to visualize the follow-on effects of each choice.

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, like 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 Facebook 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 Facebook between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. make you more productive, but it can help you enjoy your evening social media time more.

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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 shoes when you’re stressed?

If so, decide when it’s appropriate to purchase shoes and when it is 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. But if you struggle with delayed gratification, you can make it easier by giving yourself a little something extra.

Rewards do not need to be time-consuming or expensive. For $5 or less, you could:

  • Watch a movie.
  • Go shopping at a dollar store.
  • Get coffee out.
  • Go on a hike.
  • Give a friend a call.
  • Take a nap.
  • Play a game online.

Final Thoughts

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 delayed gratification is difficult, to be sure, 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

Reference

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John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

10 Ways to Find Your Focus When You’re Stressed Out How to Master Delayed Gratification to Control Your Impulses When Does Time Management Matter Most? Deep Work: 9 Grounding Rules to Stay Focused 3 Time-Management Myths You Should Stop Believing

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Last Updated on May 26, 2020

Top 10 Reasons Why People Don’t Reach Their Goals

Top 10 Reasons Why People Don’t Reach Their Goals

With everything that happens around us, it is sometimes difficult to reach our goals. This is compounded if you have any of the reasons on the list below.

Luckily, in addition to the top 10 reasons why people don’t reach their goals, I’ve included a quick fix for each of them. So let’s get to it.

1. Creating Vague Goals

When you don’t know where you are going, it is really hard to get there. Many people set themselves up for failure when they set goals that are unclear. “I want to lose weight” sounds like a great goal but the people who set this kind of goal will never reach it. It is not because the people are not motivated or disciplined but because the goal is too general. Do you want to lose 5 lbs or 50 lbs?

Quick Fix:  Set SMART goals by being Specific, making sure they are Measurable, Achievable and Realistic, and last but not least — give yourself a Time deadline. If you want to go one step further, you may want to read The Missing Letter in Your Smart Goals.

2. Lacking a Higher Purpose

Goals can be set on any topic imaginable but if you don’t have a higher purpose, it makes it is easy to give up once the initial motivation and excitement wears off. Understanding how your goal is relevant to you allows you to persevere even when the going gets tough.

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Quick Fix: When setting your SMART goal, ask yourself how the goal is relevant to your life and what you want to achieve.

3. Procrastinating

Even when you have SMART goals that are relevant to your purpose, if you don’t get started, you’ll never achieve your goal. One of the most dangerous phrases is “I’ll do it later.”

Quick Fix: Make sure the goal has been broken down into manageable pieces and then start right away. Here are 11 Practical Ways to Stop Procrastination.

4. Not Taking Responsibility

Things will go wrong. That’s a fact of life. When something comes up and you don’t achieve your goal, who do you blame? Your boss who kept you at work late so you couldn’t work on your book or maybe the horrible weather that stopped you from going to the gym. If it’s not your fault, there is nothing you can do, right?

Quick Fix: Own up to not reaching your goals. When you take responsibility, you’ll become resourceful knowing that you have control over the attainment of your goals.

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5. Listening to People Who Discourage You

When you go for your goals, especially the big ones that really count and fit in with your purpose in life, it is inevitable that people will discourage you. There are many reasons for this: concern, jealousy, ignorance, etc. How many goals have already been given up on because other people decided they were not worth pursuing?

Quick Fix: This one is easy. As long as you know the purpose for your goal, ignore the naysayers. You can take what they are saying into consideration but make sure you make the final choice.

6. Starting Too Many Projects

I’m a starter. That sounds like a good thing but not when you start too many things, you don’t end up finishing many of them. This usually stems from the fear of missing out (FOMO) or being someone who has many ideas.

Quick Fix: Understand that you have a limited amount of time and that you can’t do everything. To deal with FOMO, realize that by not finishing, you are missing out on all the opportunities that open up when you finish the projects you are working on.

7. Being Negative

If you think you’re not going to make it, then you’re probably not going to make it. If you don’t believe you’re going to reach your goal, then when you fail, it is expected which makes it easy to stop trying. When you are optimistic and a setback occurs, you focus your energy on finding solutions because you truly believe there is one. If you believe that you suffer from bad luck, check out this article.

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Quick Fix: Consider the idea that optimism and pessimism are both expectations of the future. Each are equally likely to be true but which belief will help you lead a happier more fulfilled life? Instead of wasting your energy on complaining, spend that energy on learning.

8. Being Selfish

There are people out there that think it is silly to help others. They believe in taking and not giving. They are misers with their time, money and knowledge and are only interested in opportunities where they stand to benefit. Most big goals require the help of others and it is very difficult to help people who only care about taking.

Quick Fix: Serve others first. Always look for ways to add value to other people.

9. Surrounding Yourself with People Who Don’t Reach Their Goals

You are who you associate with. This may be hard to swallow for some people and there are always exceptions to the rule but for the most part, we act in accordance with the people around us. This comes from the strong ad natural desire to belong and to be accepted (think of all the dumb things you did in high school just to fit in).

Quick Fix: Associate with people who always reach their goals.

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10. Watching Too Much TV

Not all TV is bad but if you are watching TV then most likely you are not doing anything to move one step closer to your goal. The problem with TV these days is that it is captivating. There are programs for all interests and hobbies and the shows keep getting better and better. Those who watch alot of TV usually don’t reach their goals and perhaps people watch TV because they don’t have any goals.

Quick Fix: Shut off the TV. Cancel the cable. Pick up a book that will help you move one step closer to your goal. Here are 6 Steps to Remove TV from your Life.

Do you have anything to add? What do you think are the reasons why people don’t reach their goals and what are your thought about the 10 reasons we have listed here. Feel free to give your own effective quick fixes for the different reasons in the comments section below.

Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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