Power of delayed gratificationThe ability to control impulses and prioritise long-term goals over immediate pleasures plays a pivotal role in our success.
Would you rather receive Rs100,000 in 6 months or Rs120,000 in seven months? Most people would choose to wait for an extra month to receive the larger sum in seven months. It seems logical, right?
Now, let’s consider another scenario. Would you rather have Rs100,000 right now or Rs120,000 a month later? In this case, most people would opt for the immediate Rs100,000 rather than waiting for the extra Rs120,000 a month later. But, if we think about it, the only difference between the two scenarios is the word “now” Both options involve waiting for one month. The introduction of the word “now” can lead to inconsistent decisions.
These subtle changes in decision-making may not seem significant, but they can have a profound impact on our lives. Our proximity to a reward often influences our emotional responses and choices. These seemingly small shifts in decision-making can shape our future significantly.
In the 1970s, Stanford researcher Walter Mischel conducted a famous experiment on delayed gratification known as ‘The Marshmallow Test’. You can find videos of the test easily on YouTube via a simple search. In this test, four-year-old children were each given a marshmallow and the choice to eat it right away or wait a couple of minutes to receive a second one. Surprisingly, very few children could resist the temptation and waited for the second marshmallow. This ability to delay gratification and exercise self-control had a direct correlation with their future success. Those who could control their desires tended to be more successful later in life.
Let’s consider another example: the time we spend endlessly scrolling through social media on our mobile devices. Whether it’s TikTok, Facebook, or Instagram, we know there are more important things to do, but it's easy to get lost in these platforms for hours. Why? Because they provide instant gratification. However, as soon as we stop, we often feel a sense of regret for wasting our time.
The Marshmallow Test and the social media example offer insights into our self-control and ability to delay gratification. Children often struggle with self-control because they fail to see the benefits of patience. However, as we grow older, we develop more self-control and become better at delaying rewards. We’re willing to wait longer for better outcomes and prioritise important tasks over immediate pleasures.
Responding to situations instead of reacting requires a level of self-control. Reacting immediately to a situation may feel satisfying, but it often reflects our inability to delay action for a better response.
We often hear the phrase, “Live each day as if it were your last.” It’s an inspiring motto, encouraging us to enjoy life to the fullest. However, if you really started to live your life as if it were actually your last, you would come across a series of problems. If we lived every day as if it were our last, we might neglect basic hygiene, avoid work, and indulge in unhealthy habits. This approach can lead to financial troubles or even legal issues. The profound sentiment of living for the present must be balanced with responsible planning for the future.
In reality, we follow our daily routines, maintain our health, nurture relationships, work towards our goals, and make efforts because we understand the importance of self-control and delaying immediate gratification for a better tomorrow.
Instant gratification is undoubtedly appealing, but the better we can control our impulses and actions, the more rational our decisions become. This control empowers us to make choices based on our goals rather than being dictated by immediate circumstances. It’s worth reflecting on whether we're in control of our actions or if our actions are in control of us.