Management & Leadership

The Importance of being able to Exercise Delayed Gratification

Apr 07, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
The Importance of being able to Exercise Delayed Gratification

What is Delayed Gratification?

On the surface, delayed gratification is about resisting temptation so as to, hopefully, receive a better reward later. However, within life’s bigger picture, the ability to resist the impulse to take something immediately is indicative of important life-skills. This is because of the tie between delayed gratification and the ability to self-regulate and exercise self-control. As well as the capacity to be flexible and make well thought through decisions. All of which impact how much grit we have. And therefore, our ability to achieve goals as well as succeed in life.

Why Delayed Gratification is a Good Habit to Have

There is a delayed gratification continuum. On the one side are those with an impulse inclination. These individuals generally act spontaneously to get what they want, with little concern about or thoughts of the future. On the other side, are those who restrain themselves to the extent of unnecessary deprivation. Both ends of this continuum, over-control and under-control, are maladaptive.  Thus, ideally, you want to be somewhere in the middle of this continuum. Such that you are able to exercise enough self-control to weigh up present gain’s vs possible future outcomes. But also, be able to grasp hold of opportunities and express your feelings within your current context.

“Exercising delayed gratification is an essential life skill.”

Five Areas of Delayed Gratification

Within a self-regulation theory, there are Five Areas of Delayed Gratification:

  1. Food
  2. Money
  3. Physical Pleasures
  4. Social interactions
  5. Achievements

Each of these five areas link to aspects of our life which have long term consequences. If we deprive ourselves of food or we overeat then we are likely to negatively impact our health. Spending too much now, could land us in debt later or not being able to retire when we want to. Indulging in physical pleasures emanating from, for example, drugs, can lead to an addiction. You are more likely to pass an exam if you delay social interactions to study. Which also better enables you to achieve a longer-term goal of qualifying to work in your dream job.

“Our ability to exercise delayed gratification can impact our overall success in life.”

Delayed Gratification Experiments

One of the most famous delayed gratification experiments was carried out by a psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1970s. He offered children a choice. Either eat one treat immediately, or wait and eat two later. He then left the children alone with one treat and the promise of a second if the first wasn’t eaten immediately.

Discovering that, in the longer run, delayed gratification has a link to academic success and displaying less behaviour problems. What this translates to, is that children who are able to exercise delayed gratification are at a distinct life-long advantage. Because, they tend to be well behaved at school, achieve better grades and are less inclined towards substance use.

Why is it Hard to Wait?

So, when we know the reward could be better, why is it difficult to wait? For example, if I don’t nibble on that tempting chocolate brownie, I’m more likely to lose weight. Which will be of more benefit to me overall, than the yumminess of eating the chocolate brownie now. It’s speculated that when a goal like weight loss is less certain and further off, a sure-thing is more difficult to resist. Essentially delayed gratification in a real-world context isn’t as cut-and-dried as it is within experimental settings. Therefore, timing, especially if it’s an unknown factor, is likely to impact our weighing up of immediate versus delayed rewards.

Teaching Delayed Gratification

The ability to exercise delayed gratification is important regardless of real-life context versus experimental settings. This is because of its link to self-control, impulse control, patience, decision making and being able to achieve goals. Thus, its an important life-skill to teach children and employ as an adult.

4 Ways to Improve the Ability to Delay Gratification

Various factors make exercising it difficult. Therefore, when teaching how to delay gratification, there are strategies which will make it easier to learn.

  1. Have Defined Time-frames: Knowing how long you need to wait, better enables patience.
  2. Set Realistic Deadlines: Not having enough time sets you up for failure. Which makes you more inclined to give in to temptation.
  3. Build Trust: By ensuring delivery of a reward within a timeframe and as promised, trust can be built. Which is an important factor within a now-or-later decision-making process.
  4. Repeat Scenarios: Repeating scenarios reinforces the concept of consequences and rewards thinking through decisions. This helps to promote the life-skill(s) you are trying to teach.

Who can help with learning Delayed Gratification?

You can learn how to delay gratification. Refining it throughout our life, we can find a great balance between exercising too little or too much self-control. A life coach is an excellent person to help you to keep accountable as you try to achieve your goals. They are also perfectly placed to encourage you and remind you to exercise better delayed gratification. Enquire today to see how you can become a life coach and thereby help people to achieve their goals. SACAP offers internationally accredited life coaching courses, with online and part-time options.

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