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Mastering delayed gratification: A key to success

I've known with absolute clarity that I would fail the marshmallow test had I been one of the child participants.

The marshmallow test is a well-known psychological experiment conducted by Walter Mischel and his colleagues at Stanford University. It was designed to study the concept of delayed gratification in children.

In the test, a marshmallow (or some other desirable treat) was placed in front of a child, and the child was told they could get a second treat if they resisted the temptation (usually for 15 minutes). If they gave in and ate the treat before the time was up; they only got the one.

Delayed gratification refers to the ability to resist the temptation of an immediate reward in order to obtain a larger or more valuable reward later on.

Conversely, instant gratification refers to the desire for immediate satisfaction or pleasure, without delay or deferral. It's the tendency to prioritize short-term pleasure over long-term goals, and to seek out immediate rewards rather than working towards a larger, more distant goal.

We all know that delaying gratification is beneficial. In fact, it has been dubbed as one of the most important traits of successful people.

For a large part of my life though, when faced with a choice which was not a raging fire that needed immediate attention, the instant gratification monkey was in overdrive in my mind.

I'm aware of the importance of delayed gratification now more than ever. Here are few techniques that have helped me with it when it matters the most:

1) Giving myself something to look forward to: Let me share an example. I was watching a movie the other night and it was nearing bed time. I knew well that I'd wake up the next day and head for my phone to watch the rest of the movie. So, I told myself that I'd watch the movie only after I completed 3 key tasks.

This way, I'm able to complete what I want to and also have something to look forward to.

2) Writing it down: I've observed that my mind tends to play games at times. When I've made similar pacts with myself (like the one above), my mind would conveniently forget (or pretend to forget) what the pact was. Whether it was that I'll watch the movie after doing 1 or 2 or 3 key tasks.

Writing it down holds me in good stead when my mind plays such games.

3) Practicing the '10 Minute Rule' - I've found this technique suggested by Nir Eyal to be of great help. It can be applied to resist distractions and instant gratification. When tempted, I tell myself it's okay to give in, but not right now; I need to wait for 10 minutes. If I still want to pursue the action after that, I can go ahead.

I can't recall an instance when I've given into my impulses after the 10 minutes have passed; I tend to continue with the task at hand.

Related Tiny Habits Recipe: After I feel tempted to browse social media while working on an important task, I will practice the 10 Minute Rule.

Image by NoName_13 Pixabay


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