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It seems like everyday life is centered on one thing these days: instant gratification.

We don't just want higher self esteem, we want it now.

We don't just want to lose weight, we want to lose weight fast.

We don't just want that big house of our dreams, we want it tomorrow.

And to be honest, wanting things immediately doesn't make a person weak or serve as a sign of poor impulse control -- social psychology agrees that human beings love immediate reward, immediate pleasure, and it's human nature to have difficulties when we're told to resist temptation. It is perfectly okay to want our immediate desires, but it's a completely different story when we only look towards tomorrow's reward.

If we only focus on the immediate outcomes, we may not be setting our future self up for success because we've given our present desires all of our energy. Worse yet, focusing on the fastest way to get to our goals robs us of valuable opportunities to become the best version of ourselves.

In an era where instant gratification is the norm, the ability to practice delayed gratification stands out as a vital skill for achieving long-term success and personal fulfillment. No matter what crafty salesmen or social media leads you to believe, anything worthwhile is worth the wait.

Whether it’s saving money, advancing in your career, or developing healthier habits, the discipline of postponing immediate rewards and focusing on the long term reward can significantly enhance your capacity to reach your goals.

Practicing delayed gratification is a powerful strategy for achieving long-term goals. Today, I'm giving you a guide that explores how to develop this essential skill, backed by psychological insights and practical advice.

What is delayed gratification?

Delayed gratification skills are a set of abilities that allow us to delay an immediate reward or resist temptation in favor of the long term rewards and benefits. When we delay gratification, we make a conscious effort to say "no" to the immediate reward or immediate gratification that may come from whatever it is we are being tempted with.

It is contrasted with instant gratification, which is the tendency for people to overemphasize the importance of the immediate reward, and give in to our temptation despite knowing that patience would be the better option. When you have a delicious meal in front of you, for example, it's hard to say "I'm really hungry but I would rather wait two hours."

But if giving in to our natural urges in the moment is expected, what's so great about delaying gratification? Shouldn't I be delighted about getting what I want immediately?

Well, yes and no -- while immediately getting what we want isn't necessarily a bad thing, if we sacrifice the long term rewards of waiting for the temporary pleasure of getting what we want now, it becomes a problem that interferes with our long term goals.

What does science say about delayed gratification?

The concept of delayed gratification and why the benefits seem to go against our natural tendencies was probably best illustrated by the classic Stanford Marshmallow Experiment conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1970s. The 70s were quite a strange time for psychological science, but the marshmallow experiment went on to become a classic example of the benefits of delaying gratification.

The marshmallow experiment looked something like this:

  • The participants were 50 children, 25 boys and 25 girls ranging from the ages of 3-6.
  • The children were offered the choice to eat one small immediate reward (a marshmallow)
  • They were then told that they would get two rewards if they waited to eat the first marshmallow.
  • The experimenter would leave the room for about 15 minutes.
  • When they came back, if the child did not eat the one marshmallow they were given, then they were given a second marshmallow.
  • In follow-up, children who were able to resist temptation tended to have more positive outcomes as young adults, such as higher self esteem, higher SAT scores, and other life measures.

The marshmallow test was originally done to understand when delayed gratification skills develop, but it highlighted a very important aspect of delaying gratification and the long term success that may await.

What are the benefits of practicing delayed gratification skills?

The marshmallow test was good way to highlight how intrinsic our immediate desires are, but it also demonstrate that there are numerous benefits to delaying gratification. Now that we have a more comprehensive understanding of why the ability to delay gratification is such an essential life skill, let's get a bit more specific.

1. Personal Growth and Development

Delayed gratification fosters discipline, patience, and resilience, qualities that are essential for personal growth and self regulation.

For example, let's say that you're a student, and you have the choice to study for your exam in 7 days, or procrastinate. After all, it's 7 days away, right?

But instead, you tell yourself, "if it's 7 days away, I will be more prepared and less stressed by starting my studies now." In that moment, you practiced self control, and in doing so, advocated for your future development. Resisting the urge to binge-watch TV shows in favor of studying or learning a new skill can lead to significant educational and professional advancements.

2. Increased Productivity

When you delay immediate rewards, you can prioritize tasks that align with your long-term objectives. You become more strategic and pragmatic with your time. Maybe you're the kind of person who struggles with completing things by deadlines -- if that's the case, self discipline in delaying gratification such as procrastination can work wonders.

This approach reduces procrastination and enhances productivity. For instance, choosing to work on a project now instead of scrolling through social media can lead to timely completion and better results.

3. Financial Stability

Short term rewards that are expensive may harm your future financial health. Delaying gratification may mean that your forgo large purchases in favor of developing a budget.

By saving money and avoiding impulsive purchases, you can build a more stable financial future. Whether it's investing for retirement, saving for a major purchase, or creating an emergency fund, delayed gratification plays a key role in achieving financial security.

4. Better Health and Well-Being

If you're trying to improve your health, you might be familiar with fad diets that promise six pack abs in a week, or a juice cleanse that will add 10 years to your life. But the delayed gratification mindset is incredibly important when someone is on a health journey, as anything promising immediate transformation is simply a lie at best, and dangerous at worst.

Choosing to eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and avoid harmful habits over immediate indulgences can lead to significant long-term health benefits that change your entire life style. Patience is key here, since the changes are gradual. This mindset helps in maintaining a balanced life, reducing the risk of chronic diseases, and enhancing overall wellbeing

5. Enhanced Relationships

Every relationship is work -- the one we have with ourselves, and with others. Let's say you have a group of friends, but you only see them on the weekends when you go to parties, and you never talk about anything deeper. Talking about real, foundational things in a relationship is critical to building intimacy, and it takes time.

Focusing on building genuine, lasting relationships rather than seeking immediate gratification from casual interactions leads to deeper connections and more fulfilling relationships.

This involves investing time and effort in understanding and supporting loved ones, which strengthens bonds over time.

Practical Techniques to Increase Delaying Gratification

Now that we understand all the wonderful ways delay gratification can serve our future selves, I want to outline a step-by-step guide to mastering self control, and developing a better sense of self discipline.

1. Set Clear, Long-Term Goals

It's incredibly clear that your roadmap to success leads somewhere. Having a clear vision of what you want to achieve makes it easier to resist short-term temptations, especially if the goal will take a long time to achieve.

The key part here is to focus on where you are going, but also be reasonable -- break the goal down into smaller milestones, and estimate the time it will take to complete each one.

Write down your goals, break them into smaller milestones, and regularly review your progress.

2. Visualize the Outcome

Visualizing the positive outcomes of delayed gratification can motivate you to stay the course. Develop a clear image of your future self, and ground your present self in all the feelings you'll experience upon reaching that goal.

For instance, imagine the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, such as increased energy and longevity, to help resist unhealthy food cravings. Or you can imagine the new car you'll be able to afford by budgeting now and saying no to large impulse purchases.

3. Create a Reward System

While delaying gratification, it’s important to acknowledge your efforts and give yourself some kudos for staying the course.

Create a reward system where you can indulge in small treats after achieving specific milestones, which helps maintain motivation without derailing your long-term goals. This doesn't mean to give in to that temptation to spend lavishly, but rather, outline a clear reward you'll give yourself upon completing a milestone, and stick to it.

4. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness techniques can help you become more aware of your impulses and make conscious decisions. Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and journaling can enhance your ability to stay focused on long-term goals.

5. Build a Support System

The company you keep can make all the difference in sticking to your goals and ability to delay gratification. Surround yourself with supportive individuals who understand and respect your long-term goals, and make an effort to avoid individuals who encourage your impulses without regard.

A support system's encouragement can be invaluable in moments of temptation and can provide accountability as you work towards your objectives.


Practicing delayed gratification is a powerful tool for achieving your goals and enhancing various aspects of your life, sometimes in ways you may not even expect. By focusing on long-term rewards and managing immediate impulses, you can build discipline, achieve greater success, and enjoy more meaningful outcomes in your journey towards greatness.

Whether it’s improving your finances, health, relationships, or personal growth, mastering the art of delayed gratification will set you on the path to lasting fulfillment and success. Self regulation isn't easy, but I like to think that most things worthwhile in life are usually the hardest to achieve -- they require a concerted effort and diligence, all things you develop as you practice delaying gratification.

Remember, the key to mastering delayed gratification lies in consistent practice and a clear understanding of your long-term objectives. Start small, stay focused, and watch as your efforts lead to significant achievements over time.

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