The Importance of Delaying Gratification

While it might be tempting to take the more immediate and satisfying route, there are merits to playing the long game instead.
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Dawn Yip
Senior Writer
The Importance of Delaying Gratification

Maybe you wound up watching a three-hour video essay instead of finishing up that soon-to-be-overdue financial report. Or instead of preparing for your big presentation, you spent the night before gaming with your friends, leaving future you to panic hours before the presentation. 

It's essentially that urge to indulge in the present moment at the expense of whatever it is you’re supposed to do, even if it’s just temporary. It’s about choosing to enjoy yourself right now, regardless of the consequences.

In fact, by giving in to this urge, you’re likely jeopardising your chances for long-term fulfilment for not just your personal life, but your professional one too.

The price of quick fixes

Objectively speaking, instant gratification is neither a good or bad thing. However, when we choose to indulge in too much of it and start pushing important things aside just to fulfil our immediate needs, then it becomes a problem. This is because instant gratification isn’t just limited to being distracted by something quick and shiny; it’s also about fostering impatience and lack of self-control. 

For example, you give up on working towards a promotion because you aren’t making progress as quickly as you’d like. Or you impulsively cancel an important work meeting after hours for a fun night out with your friends.  

Sure, it might feel good (or reliving) at the moment, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve failed to accomplish the tasks you set for yourself. Basically, you may be feeling satisfied now, but it’s at the cost of hindering your future success.


Unsurprisingly, this combination of consequences is detrimental if you want to have any chance of achieving any long-term goals you have in mind. After all, it’s impossible to make any progress if you constantly forgo the work that needs to be put in for future plans and indulge in fun instead!

Delaying now for later

Ironically, there’s no quick fix for curbing instant gratification. Rather, you’ll need to learn how to resist the temptation of right now, and practice delayed gratification instead. This means choosing to resist the urge for an instant reward in favour of a bigger or better reward in the future. 

This is best seen in an old study from 1972 known as the Marshmallow Experiment, where kids were each given a marshmallow that they could either eat now or hold off until they received another one. A follow up study later found that the kids who delayed eating the treat generally enjoyed more success in life, from better grades to better jobs and health.

This is because by being willing to delay gratification, you’re strengthening not just your ability to be disciplined and persistent, but your willpower to follow through on the future goals you’ve set for yourself, even if your efforts won’t immediately bear fruit.


Building delayed gratification 

But how do you acquire it? It’s not the easiest skill, and requires a fair share of work to achieve. Here are a few tips that could help make the process easier:

Be aware of your urges

If you don’t even know what needs changing, it’ll be difficult to implement any changes that’ll stick. With this in mind, the first step is to do some introspection on your existing behaviours and actions. For example, do you keep reaching for your phone throughout the day, or was there a time where you gave up and did something you shouldn’t have? 

Once you’ve noticed your existing habits, you can start to work on them.


Start small

To get your brain used to delayed gratification, start with the little things. You can do this by delaying the gratification for a short amount of time before gradually increasing the duration over time. 

For example, if the first thing you do in the morning is to scroll through social media, try delaying that for half an hour, with you doing something that feels productive during that half an hour. Eventually you can try extending that half an hour further. This way, you'll slowly build up a habit for delaying gratification, making it easier for you to eventually apply this to other aspects of your life. 


Try out the Seinfield Strategy

An important part of mastering delayed gratification is to remain consistent in doing so, otherwise the habit won’t stick. To this end, one method to help you stay accountable is the Seinfeld Strategy, a simple technique devised by American comedian Jerry Seinfeld. 

How this works is that for each day you manage to delay gratification and avoid temptation, you mark your calendar with an ‘X’. After repeating this a few times, it should result in a chain of ‘X’s. Your only objective from then onwards is to keep up the momentum and not break that chain. 

Not only does this help you keep track of your progress, but it can also turn it into a game of sorts where you can challenge  yourself, making it a more enjoyable experience for you. 


Playing the long game (to success)

Mastering the art of delaying gratification isn’t easy, and it certainly won’t happen overnight. In fact, chances are there’s going to be times where you give in to your urges. That’s okay, though, it happens to the best of us, and there’s nothing wrong with indulging once in a while. Rather what matters is to reflect, learn from your experiences and keep going. 

After all, long-term success takes plenty of time, discipline and patience. So as long as you keep a growth-driven mindset and stay consistent, your efforts are sure to be greatly rewarded.