Delayed gratification is the process of resisting an immediate reward to benefit from a greater reward in the future. Eating a chocolate cake provides you with immediate gratification but will cause you to gain weight and make you feel sluggish later in the day. Whereas a healthy meal might not taste as good, you get the future reward of looking, functioning and feeling better.

Through various forms of media and advertising, we are conditioned to value immediate rewards over delayed rewards. When you can get things instantaneously, it becomes undesirable to have to wait for rewards.


Why Wait for Rewards?

It might not be obvious why you’d want to engage in delayed gratification. Having the immediate reward sounds good; why would you want to wait for a reward? The following exercise should help to make the answer to this question clearer. Spend 5-10 minutes thinking about your top goals in life, and then make a list. If you could have and achieve anything, what would you have? It could be your dream house, achieving your dream physique, starting up a business you’ve had a passion for since you were younger. 


The next step is to ask yourself what it would take to achieve these goals? How much time would you need to invest into starting up a business? How much effort would you need to put into the gym and your nutrition? How many hours would you need to spend each month, each week, each day working towards those goals?

You’ll most likely realise that it would take a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice.

Any compelling goal that you want to achieve, you’re going to have to put in a lot of hours of practice. You’re going to have to sacrifice a lot of instant rewards; there’s no way around it. So if you’re not willing to go through delayed gratification, you’re not going to achieve any of the goals you want to reach in your life.


Facing Adversity

Another reason why delayed gratification is important is that it conditions you to be disciplined and strong-minded. If you’re hooked to receiving instant gratification all the time, how are you going to cope when adverse situations happen in your life? If you’re always used to receiving immediate rewards, what happens when you don’t receive that reward?

If you want to start your own business, how will you deal with adverse situations like your business suffering a huge setback? You’re not used to going through challenging situations, so you won’t know how to deal with them. As a result, you’re leaving yourself in a very vulnerable position.

Whereas if you implement the principle of delayed gratification, you’re more accustomed to challenging situations because you go through them every day on your pursuit to reach your goals. Working towards your goals isn’t an easy thing to do; there’s a lot of challenges that come your way, both internally and externally. So you need to build the correct foundations to overcome those challenges.


Implementing Delayed Gratification

When implementing delayed gratification, it’s best to start small and build up your tolerance over time. If you’re used to spending all weekend watching Netflix, it’s going to be too much of a change for you to spend your entire weekend working on your start-up business.

Whereas when you make gradual steps and build it up, it’s a lot more enjoyable. If you went from eating junk food to only eating vegetables, you’re not going to like what you eat. But if you gradually begin implementing small portions of vegetables into one of your meals each day, it’s much easier to manage, and you can start enjoying what you’re eating.

The second step is to set a dedicated amount of time for doing specific tasks. It’s not the case that you can just decide to live your life by the principle of delayed gratification, and everything you do from then on is going to be aimed towards delayed gratification. You have to consciously plan out what amount of time you’re going to spend working on that business or plan out which healthier meal options you will choose. 

Over time, you will start to take these delayed gratification steps subconsciously as you build up positive habits.

One of the biggest misconceptions about delayed gratification is that you have to endure things you hate doing. This isn’t true; most of the challenging things you spend your time working towards should be your goals, so you should be passionate about them.

These things aren’t inherently painful or tedious to do; it’s just that you’re used to doing the activities that bring you immediate rewards; you’re used to the easy activities. So the delayed gratification activities are more challenging. While some tasks may seem painful initially, that soon disappears as you improve at implementing delayed gratification.

An example of delayed gratification would be going to the gym. Even for someone who hates going to the gym, once you set your goal, you create the motivation, and you're passionate about achieving your goal, any pain and discomfort you experience from delayed gratification will just dissipate. 


Getting in Touch with Delayed Gratification

If you’re not implementing delayed gratification in your life, then you’re out of touch with the long term results that you can gain from making sacrifices today. Instead, you’re too focused on the immediate results. For example, you have aspirations of going to a top tier university, but when it comes to revising for your exams, you keep delaying the revision because you want to play video games. 

You have a compelling goal to study at a great university, but you’re not really in touch with that goal. The thought of playing video games when you get home from school is so desirable; the thought of having to sacrifice that and study for your exams seems undesirable. To begin implementing delayed gratification, you have to become connected to the end goal you want to achieve. The more you think about what you want to achieve, the more in touch you’ll become with the end goal. 

If you spend your day thinking about playing video games when you get home, then your natural inclination will be to play video games when you get home. If you spend your day thinking about the university you want to attend, your natural tendency will be to study when you get home. As you develop a greater desire to go to a top university, you’ll simultaneously lose interest in playing video games.

People that consistently implement delayed gratification have formed such a clear connection to their goals. What drives them to take action towards their goals isn’t the result; it’s that they get immediate gratification from knowing they’re taking the right action. And the low-consciousness choices like playing video games and eating junk food give them immediate dissatisfaction.

Whereas if you’re like most people, you aren’t aware of how these low consciousness activities prevent you from becoming fulfilled, and you aren’t aware of how the high consciousness activities will make you fulfilled. You’re attached to these low consciousness activities, so your entire perception of what you think will fulfil your needs to be inverted.


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