Delaying Gratification

The Marshmallow Test was an experiment conducted by Walter Mischel that measured and tested delaying gratification. The ability to do so has been linked to success in life more so than IQ. Although success is subjectively defined the ability to delay gratification has shown that it promotes success objectively across the board.

Renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman has summed up the empirical human obstacle in one sentence. It is the battle between instant gratification and delayed gratification for us all. This plays out in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons but the premise the same.

Our brains go for the easy fix. It is the default setting. We have pleasure circuits in our brain that are so powerful that anticipation of pleasure is actually a more powerful driver of behavior than the actual experience of pleasure. We see it everywhere. We eat things we know are bad for us because of how they taste and how they make us feel. We buy things we want convincing ourselves we needed them. We leave relationships because we no longer immediately have certain feelings and someone else makes us feel what we want. We constantly get positioned by unseen forces because we feel uncomfortable or anticipate feeling better. Everything that subconsciously makes us change direction is because it instantly gratifies us.

As The Marshmallow Test showed, delaying gratification is a skill. It is a muscle. It can be built. And the subjects that displayed this were not self help gurus or professionally disciplined athletes, they were children. All it takes is a few mindful moments of discomfort to start to build our ability to delay gratification. Slowly cutting back on a food item to eventually eliminate it from your diet is a perfect example.

The ability to delay gratification is a fungible ability. You can apply it to anything once you have developed it. It requires a mindful application to do so. Sometimes we don't believe a situation will benefit from the application or that it is possible for it to be applied but the actual truth lays in the perspective. Yes, delaying gratification is difficult and it will at times cause us to face the bigger underlying issue, like why the instant gratification feels so dire. The tendency to fill a core emotional void tends to be the culprit for many of us and this is something that is even more difficult for us to face. But we only benefit in the long term when we choose to sit in dissonance and strengthen our ability to delay gratification. After some time, we can in fact feel gratification for consciously delaying gratification.


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