What Does Delayed Gratification Really Do to Help You Achieve Your Goals?

man using a laptop on beige desk


What is Delayed Gratification?

Delayed Gratification and Success

How do You Learn Delay Gratification?

Resist Temptation, Achieve More

Postpone Unhealthy Activities

Practice More Healthy Habits

Do Only One Thing At A Time

Focus on What You Can Do Now

Create Systems

Include Every Area of Your Life


What Does Delayed Gratification Really Do to Help You Achieve Your Goals?

Patience is not simply the ability to wait—it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.

    – Joyce Meyer

Do you go for the first thing and then realize you’ve missed a big opportunity? Or find yourself impulse buying and accruing debt? Or eating that whole box of Ginger Snaps and not losing that weight you wanted to lose?

If so, you’re going on impulse rather than delaying gratification to achieve your goals. You may be missing the real rewards by treating yourself now.

Delayed gratification is a powerful life tool to help you get what you really want.

Not eating that next cookie and thinking of the slimmer you is one instance of delayed gratification.

In today’s world of one-click purchases and immediately accessible information, instant gratification is seen as the norm. With smartphones and wi-fi, our constantly-connected world reinforces the idea that everything can be done right away.

However, instant gratification isn’t always the best—in fact, impulse control is an essential skill for life. Delayed gratification is the skill that will lead you to your goals faster.

The fact is, it’s not possible to get everything you want, much less get it immediately. As a result, instant gratification creates false expectations. The benefits of using delayed gratification are to strategize thoughtfully and learn from your failures. What is delayed gratification? What are some ways to develop this essential skill?

In this article, we’ll look at what it is and how it empowers you to reach your goals.

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What is Delayed Gratification?

The ability to resist instant pleasure is referred to as delayed gratification. Instead of giving in to temptation, you hold out in the hope of a better or lasting future reward.

By using delayed gratification, you learn from your mistakes and become more responsible and self-determined. There are many avenues to practice delayed gratification.

Remember your old habits of biting your nails or constantly eating unhealthy snacks? They may be difficult to break. However, if you develop skills in delaying gratification, you may be able to avoid them. You may also find that you’re able to push through challenges with ease and enjoy a sense of accomplishment.

Delayed Gratification and Success

In the 1960s, Walter Mischel, Ph.D. conducted a test at Standford University to measure how children exhibit delayed gratification. And he later published a book about the results as those children matured, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. He argued that self-control and the ability to delay gratification are critical for long-term health and for social and professional success.

The experiment tested young children on whether they would save a marshmallow for 15 minutes in order to get another one or eat the one before the 15 minutes was up.
Some waited. Some didn’t.

Which kid are you?

But the experiment went on for years. And the results are important for you.

Mischel followed the kids through school, into high school, and beyond. What he discovered was the kids who could wait were the most successful.

The children who received prizes as promised had unknowingly trained their brains to believe that (1) they were capable of delaying gratification and (2) delayed gratification was worth the wait. The kids’ ability to wait for bigger pleasure was not predetermined or genetic—it was a learned behavior.

What does that mean for you? You can train your brain to delay gratification.

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How do You Learn Delayed Gratification?

If you want to develop self-control, you may think that you want to get tough by denying yourself anything pleasurable. You may even want to make your life more controlled by denying yourself a reward. But you’d be tricking yourself. That approach backfires because your brain looks for consistency to guide your decisions.

Instead, make yourself reliable and follow through on your promises to yourself.

pair of black nike shoes

1. Start Small

Begin with your daily activities. Create a goal that is easy to achieve. You want to eat one cookie after a meal. Make yourself wait one minute before you eat the cookie. That is a small achievable goal.

It may not feel like a long-term goal, but you’ve practiced the principle of delayed gratification.

And for your daily routine, it means knocking out the hard things in your day first. So so after your standard morning routine, the time right after you wake up, you might do a short meditation, you might take a shower, or you might go for a walk or a run after you wake up. Then you sit down to do your task list for the day based on your strategy list for the month, in the year.

2. Deal With The Hard Stuff First

Chew off the hard items first. Right, that is dealing with that hard stuff first every morning.

There are two kinds of hard stuff.

One is strategic hard stuff. These are the small tasks that lead you toward your long-term goals. Each small task moves you closer to reaching that big goal. These are tasks like writing a couple of items for your book outline for that book that you want to write. Or, leaving voice mails about a project for a colleague. Or, reaching out to a couple of new leads on LinkedIn. Whatever that hard stuff is for the day, do it. You are making strategic progress on your long-term objectives.

The other is the practical hard stuff. Those are the things you do to take care of yourself and your life. Like, calling the dentist for that appointment or dealing with that bill that you forgot to pay. Or, signing up for that software tool you need. Dealing with that computer update you should have done last month. Or, there’s something wrong with the car, and you need to take care of it. Those things need to be sorted because they can become a thorn in your side. And they start to slow you down.

If you don’t deal with the practical stuff, you can end up with disasters much larger than the small annoyances you ignore. Without the update, your computer is liable for hacking or your programs won’t run well. That small thing, like the missed oil change, can lead to a frozen engine that needs to be replaced. You don’t want to think about what missing that dental appointment can lead to.

3. Conquer the Instant Gratification Interference

A delayed gratification challenge also shows up when you fill your life with instant gratification. Those instant reward activities keep you from those small tasks that head you toward your long-term goals and keep your life in order. There’s no room for getting them done. You’re crowding out the success-related items with instant pleasure.

4. Notice What You Do

For instance, notice how much time you take for entertainment. And is that entertainment healthy?
How do you determine what healthy entertainment is? It’s something that feels rewarding. And that when you’ve completed that healthy entertainment, you feel satisfied. For example, a nice dinner with friends. You go out, you chat, you may have a drink, you have a nice dinner, you finish the evening feeling satisfied. And you go home feeling content. And then your chill down routine when you get back home. And you go to bed very content.

Compare that to watching a TV episode on Netflix. You’ll watch one episode. And then watch another one and another one. And after even three or four episodes, you’re still sitting there in the same place. You haven’t left the couch. You’re feeling worse than when you started. And there’s no feeling of gratification.

So it’s really more of a distraction than anything. That’s not a healthy use of your time. Maybe there’s a good TV show that you watch a half-hour or hour a week. Maybe there’s a movie that you see. Or, every couple of weeks, sit down and watch a movie with some friends. But those are not daily activities, daily activities should be rewarding and fulfilling.

Recognizing the difference between instant gratification that feels good and occasional pleasure is one way to help you reach your goals for success. Daily time-stealing gratification eats at your success. Occasional pleasure rewards you for work well done.

Resist Temptation, Achieve More

The question is not whether you eat the cookie. The question is whether you will eat the cookie now or later with more cookies.

The trick is to create situations for yourself that reward you for delaying gratification. You’ll train your brain to know that waiting for the bigger, better reward does work.

Here are some activities to help you train your brain.

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Postpone Unhealthy Activities

That series binge…wait a day to start. Do something healthy instead.

For instance, spend that time cooking up a tasty meal to save for an evening after work in the coming week. You’ll have fun cooking as a positive activity.

And that Tuesday and Wednesday, when you come home from work, your meal will be prepared.

Delay eating that chocolate bar until after you’ve done your exercise workout.

Practice More Healthy Habits

Just like cooking a meal instead of binge-watching, think of other healthy habits to add to your daily routines.

James Clear introduced the 2-minute rule in his book Atomic Habits. Create healthy habits you can do in two minutes. They don’t take much time but reinforce your brain.

…you design your environment in such a way that getting started on a healthy habit will take you 2-minutes or less. You strategically place books around your house – e.g., on your nightstand and on your coffee table – so you can read books instead of drowning in online rabbit holes.

Do Only One Thing At A Time

Forget multitasking. Try doing one thing, and one thing only.
  • Take a walk without listening to a podcast
  • Read without listening to music
  • Eat a meal without watching videos
Constant multitasking trains your brain to be inefficient. Instead, focus on the task at hand.
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Focus on What You Can Do Now

When you learn a new skill, frame your activity positively. Instead of saying “I can’t cook” or “I hate spreadsheets,” use the reality of what you can do now.

“I am learning to cook.”

“I am learning how to create and use formulas in a spreadsheet.”

You reinforce your new skill by stating exactly where you are now.

Create Systems

As you look to your future and the goals you want to accomplish, create the steps to reach the goal. You won’t just get from here to there—that rewarding goal that will bring you delayed gratification. You need to focus on the systems that will get you to the goal over time.

You’ll reach your goal by accomplishing many steps. You’ve probably read many times that you need to put your goal in writing. But in order to reach your goal, you need to first focus on the mini-goals and the actions you need to take, one after the other, in order to reach success.

So write down every step. You may find you reorganize the priorities or the sequence of steps. But write them down. You’ll create a plan for reaching your objective.

woman programming on macbook

Include Every Area of Your Life

As you delay gratification so you can focus on productive activities, including activities in the many areas of your life.

Include self-care items. According to your personal choice self-care, can be related to activities like:

  • meditation
  • fitness
  • healthy eating
  • spending time with friends, family
  • having nurturing, good-quality relationships
  • spending some time alone
  • walking in the park
  • running
  • going for a swim

Take care of normal tasks in a fun way. Have fun while you’re organizing your room or your office or your kitchen. Maybe dusting or redecorating. You’ll be doing stuff that’s improving your quality of life and has a long-term benefit.

Each of these small tasks adds up to improving your life by getting things done. As you perform these small tasks, you improve the quality of your life and train your brain with rewards through your ability to delay gratification.

Take Stock Now To Build For the Future

The positive actions you take now build a foundation for success. You train your brain to like the rewards of delayed gratification. With practice, you’ll train your brain to expect delayed rewards better than what you have now.

Learning delayed gratification takes practice.

Back to the Netflix example. Would you rather watch a movie once a week on Netflix and the other three nights a week do something fun with friends and or a combination of sports and nice things to improve the atmosphere—the quality, cleanliness, and atmosphere of your home? Or would you rather be watching television seven nights a week? Which one sounds like a better life to you? Look at the cookie tests. Evaluate if your ability to delay gratification is good or not. Compare yourself to the people you know who are good at delayed gratification.

If you are trapped in instant gratification, start taking action to train yourself and your brain to enjoy the bigger rewards of delayed gratification.

I understand how changing habits is challenging. It takes courage and practice to replace unhealthy habits with habits that will bring you greater rewards and success.

I’ve mentored people just like you who want the change, but need guidance and support to take action for positive outcomes.

Start with a free action call and discover how you can add healthy habits to reach your long-term goals for success.

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