Have you ever wondered why you make some of the decisions that you do? I believe one significant factor that influences one choice over another is a human desire to move toward pleasure and avoid pain. By pleasure I mean things that create feelings of happiness, strength, optimism, energy, or inspiration. With pain, I am referring to feelings of anger, confusion, helplessness, frustration, or even boredom. If you are regularly able to demonstrate self-discipline by delaying pleasure or gratification, your chances for achieving success in life increase substantially.
According to a landmark Stanford University study, children were provided one marshmallow and given the choice of eating it or waiting fifteen minutes and being rewarded for holding out with a second marshmallow. Some kids ate theirs right away. Others waited. But the study’s real significance came years later, when researchers discovered that the children who held out for the reward had become far more successful adults than the children who ate the first marshmallow immediately. This “marshmallow theory” was found to explain that the key difference between success and failure is not merely hard work or intelligence, but the ability to delay gratification.
If you are looking to delay gratification, like to save money now to be able to purchase a more desirable item in the future, here are five strategies to help you stand strong:
1. Be clear on your values and what matters most. Have a clear understanding of what is important to you and what you want to accomplish. When you realize these aspects, you are more likely to make choices that can help you achieve the goals and success you desire.
2. Break down big projects/goals. Just like running, athletes train very differently for a sprint than a marathon. The long project will help you to learn about the process, setting mini-goals along the way, and ongoing persistence.
3. Offer visual progress. Use a jar of marbles or some sort of visual tool to demonstrate working toward a goal and making progress versus giving yourself a huge reward after accomplishing a task. Once the jar is full, then you get to reward yourself.
4. Get an accountability partner. Just like it is often times easier to workout with a buddy so that you both are less inclined to stop because you know the other person is counting on you, sharing your plan and progress with an accountability partner can help maintain your focus and discipline.
5. Frequent reflection. When you find yourself struggling with wanting something now and you’re about to cave in, stop to consciously reflect as to why you are feeling more vulnerable than usual. Try to pinpoint the motivation and reasons behind this strong craving. This time spent in reflection just may be enough to break the cycle of “now” and allow you to postpone the pleasure.
Delaying gratification can be hard-work. Depending on what you want to achieve, it may take weeks, months, years, and sometimes even decades. And even if you don’t always make the best choices, hopefully you learn from the poor ones and appreciate the good ones. As I contemplate my life, I know that when I exercise self-discipline to delay an indulgence or an instant pleasure, I reap the sweet rewards. I tend to appreciate it more, feel a greater sense of accomplishment, and achieve a more successful outcome. Hold it, smell it, or even lick it, but don’t gobble the marshmallow yet.
Personal Challenge: 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?