Delayed Gratification

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…


GREAT THINGS come to those who wait!


Delayed Gratification


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

Delaying gratification is a pretty simple concept. Simply, it means making a choice which limits the ability of getting something now, for the pleasure of being able to have something bigger or better later.


The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

The power of delayed gratification is best know from a 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 were not able to.

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 signficantly 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 at a later time. 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 Now 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 thing you want whatever that thing may be! You have a choice presented to you in every single situation you have your wallet out. Do you have a number of alcoholic drinks that night, or do you decide to drink water and save that money 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? 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.


Walk the Beaten Track or Take the Risky Path? – the Entrepreneurial Way

Linked in with the above, another form of delaying gratification IS to actually spend money, but it is NOT spending money to give you gratification now, but with the PURPOSE of delaying gratification. This is where risk comes into the equation of delaying gratification, and hence it is the entrepreneurial way. To illustrate this, lets say someone wants to purchase a property for $500,000, 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 Burger or Eat 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. To illustrate this, lets say your hungry… you probably are right now.. 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 glass of coca-cola, 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 most healthy foods will actually give you instant gratification too!!

Similar to the above, many people do not like to exercise or go to the gym, this is seen as a chore and 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!


Smoke Now or Not to Smoke Now?

Smoking is the ultimate test of willpower and a risky one to bring into this post, but it provides a great example of the power of delayed gratification. Smokers have the choice, although a hard one, of having a cigarette now to give them an instant and short-term ‘hit’, or they can choose to not have that cigarette and reap the rewards of a healthier life later on. Heck, once again the delayed gratification of this is also an instant gratification for your healthier lifestyle!


Boring Job Now 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 financial investor and advisor 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. 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.


So What?

Honestly, I could go on for days around examples of delayed gratification as basically, 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. Previously I have spoken around understanding your values and using this understanding to make choices in your life. Now, coupled with the 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 recognised for it, perhaps using it as a launching pad for a future career.


Strategies for Delayed Gratification

1. Know Your Values

As we explored in Understanding Your Values, when you know what is important to you, you are able to make choices that lead you to happiness and success.


2. Know What You Want to Achieve

Ensure you have clearly defined goals. 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.


3. 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.


4. Prioritise

Being able to prioritise what is important to you and what you want to achieve helps you make the choice to delay gratification.


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.


For the Comments

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 other strategies do you have for delaying gratification?

Feel free to leave a comment below!


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About the author 

Brendan Baker

Brendan Baker is Australia's leading personal development blogger and and helps people build and grow online businesses based on their passions. He has created the Launch Your Life Academy and Your First 1000 Subscribers. Connect with Brendan: Twitter, Facebook, Google+

Brendan Baker is Australia's leading personal development blogger and and helps people build and grow online businesses based on their passions. He has created the Launch Your Life Academy and Your First 1000 Subscribers. Connect with Brendan: Twitter, Facebook, Google+

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  1. What happens when instant gratification is the number one value?

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  5. Hi Brendan, I’m reading this 3 years after you published it and it has come at the perfect timing for me! I’ve been struggling this season to see progress in my health life, aspirations, business and career, and as a result, it has begun to impact my happiness and my relationships. I have only recently come to realise that one of the main reasons of this is that I have become so accustomed to instant gratification. It’s rampant in this day and age, and so easy to pick up as part of a lifestyle.

    Thanks for helping me to open my eyes more to it. All it takes is a little awareness for us to recognise those seemingly insignificant decisions – the accumulation of which could severely hinders us in the long run – and choose delayed gratification to live focused, purposeful lives.

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  12. Great insight…I epitomize the weak willed instant gratification seeking human…and my life has most definitely reflected this…I have been this way since I remember. I dont know how to change…I feel like a loser even though deep inside I KNOW that I am meant to be somebody or to make a difference in this world…I feel it in me….but im stuck!! Thoughts on hypnotherapy to fix me?

    1. Hi Rich,

      I hope that you have managed to start to make small changes in your life, and are seeing the benefits.

      If not, then perhaps ask yourself; what is it that you would like to achieve in life? What small changes can you make today, for a better tomorrow?

      Once you have identified these changes then be kind on yourself as you start to apply them to your life. I Know it’s corny to say, but Rome wasn’t built in a day! We are all works in progress, and when making seemingly monumental changes in our lives like these, we must always do it in ‘baby steps’.

      This allows us to do it in manageable ‘bite size’ chunks, and maximises the likelihood of success, over instantly throwing in the towel when things get tough.

      Good luck, I am sure you can do it! You CAN be the person you want to be in life!

  13. this really was well said. I have been teaching myself that for a while now, and just feel real grateful to know that its a wise thing to do, and that other people are out there applying it. Thanks so much for this.

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  15. I know this is an old article, but it’s still pretty good 🙂

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  17. I hope all have heard the concept of Living in the moment ( Zen Buddhism ). Which me enjoying the current moment to its best and not thinking about the past or future. We all humans have wandering mind hence we live in present but our mind is some place else. What is meditation the focusing on one object or breathing without any other thought or idea letting in. I mean if you have a present gratification why delay it for future is which is uncertain.

  18. I always do believe in the ability of delay gratification, whether for daily activities or business. It’s not so easy but not so hard to be the one.
    Thank you for writing an interesting article.

  19. Hey Brendan,

    I had just finished writing a piece on Delayed Gratification and was looking around to see who else has written on this topic. To my surprise, there are tons of material on this on the web. Yours was one of the few I found very good and relevant. I really liked the way you have related the concept with practical and day-to-day considerations of life.

    If you have time, do go through the piece I have written. Would love to get your comment.

  20. Sometimes delaying gratification is not a choice it seems to be a part of a test we have to come through to succeed, I agree with your points of view but sacrificing things to achieve a better life later on can grind you down at times. Watched a documentary the other day about a crow that used a piece of bread to dip into the water to catch a fish, the crow had learned the art of delaying gratification, he refused the easier option of eating the bread to wait for a better quality of meal.

  21. The Overthinker says:

    ‘Delayed gratification’ is my favourite word in self-improvement. Haha

    My way of delaying gratification or completely preventing myself from doing useless activity is by asking myself whether the stuff I’m doing helps me fulfill my purpose in life. It works and if it it failed, I will feel guilty after that.

    Good post. Thanks!

  22. Hey Brendan!

    Great post with a truly important message. There are many people out there groping for happiness in places it doesn’t exist, thinking they will be happy if they can just do more of those things they impulsively want to do. But that’s a recipe for emotional disaster, at least in the long-run. Instant gratification may gratify, but gratification is not the same as happiness. And that’s where the confusion sets in and leaves too many people jaded and cynical and angry.

    Thanks for doing what you do in the area of happiness, Brendan. You are a new shining light that I hope others gravitate to.

    1. Thanks Ken!

      Great to hear from a true expert in the field. You are right in that instant gratification is not true happiness. Are you more happy when you have 6 cookies all in one sitting, or are you happier when you delay the gratification and have 6 cookies spread out over 6 days?

      Amit from Happier Human did a great post on this recently.

  23. I really enjoyed this. I think instant gratification is something so many people are set on auto-pilot to do. Mindfulness and awareness will help the need for gratification. It’s complacency, security and comfort that makes people more likely to take the ‘instant gratification’ route. I, myself have struggled with this and focusing on your goal is a great way to not go for that (second) metaphorical cookie:) I think the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of changing. Thank you again for such a great post:)

    1. Hi Mika,

      Excellent comment! You naild it when you say that complacency, security and comfort make people take the instant gratification route. I completely agree that the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change. Change is growth, change is learning.

      I do find that focusing on the longer-term or bigger picture is a great way of taking control of your behaviour and delaying gratification.

  24. Brad Foster says:

    Ive just come to realise how the ‘boring job vs exciting job’ has its benefits. For the past 2 years ive been battling a boring job.. However ive just changed jobs into an exciting role… But you know what, i couldnt have got here without getting the basics of the boring job.. I still apply what ive learned into my new role.

    1. Hey Brad,

      That’s awesome news! Congrats on the new role… it’s so true. I’ve had some ‘not so great’ roles in the past, but they have led me to a pretty good one now, and I’m on the path to some good ones in the future as well.

      I’m sure you will also experience not just more happiness, but you will perform better as well because you are more happy and doing something you enjoy!

  25. Natalie Field says:

    Great article!

    I actually think about this all the time… Particula the spend now vs save for later dichotomy!! I agree that delaying gratification has a TONNE of benefits. I just need to do it more 🙂

    1. Awesome, Natalie!

      Agreed that many people need to do it more. I need to do it more. It’s often hard to control the instant gratification and the urges you have. But the benefits are always so much better 🙂

      1. sheila kirwan says:

        try meditation …if you go to a teacher who mskes you sit for a longish time, you are definitely teaching yourself the benefits of delayed gratification ..We want to move because the mind is craving to be more comfortable just as we want allmanner of things so much of the time in life …..or don’t want …same thing …..
        when you can’t move, the mind reacts and if you just watch the mind reacting but don’t follow it, the reactions stop and peace is felt ….not easy but easier to have someone making you do it as so often we cannot delay gratification in life as the whole mind process of wanting something is so quick …GOOD LUCK …meditation is, was and continues to be the best part of my life …

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