If given the choice between eating a marshmallow right now and waiting 15 minutes to eat two, which action would you choose? Walter Mischel, a researcher at Stanford University, created this experiment involving 4-year old kids back in the ’60s and ’70s. It was a simple test that revealed startling discoveries. The group who were given strategies to resist the temptation of eating the marshmallow had delay abilities, enabling them to plan ahead and trick the brain into avoiding instant gratification.
What’s even more interesting is that this same group of children demonstrated positive traits later in life. Compared to the group that ate the marshmallow instead of waiting, the “patient” group exhibited higher self-esteem and lower rates of depressions, obesity, and drug use. This experiment exemplifies the power of deferred gratification, or the ability to delay gratification in order to achieve long-term happiness.
Why is it hard to resist short-term desires?
It’s so easy to play video games, fill your plate with a second serving, or binge watch your favorite TV show. On the contrary, it’s difficult to save for your retirement, set aside enough time each day to complete a long-term project, or make the necessary lifestyle changes to bring down your body weight. There’s no reason to be hard on yourself, though, because everyone goes through the same thing.
This is because the brain releases a burst of dopamine when you satisfy yourself with short-term desires. In many ways, you’re at the mercy of this brain-drug—but you can do something about it to counter its negative effects. Just like how an indoor grower would invest time and resources in a FullBloom Light Dep greenhouse to enjoy multiple harvests a year, you shouldn’t settle for short-term goals and focus on sustaining long-term desires.
Mastering deferred gratification in three steps
1) Be aware of your impulsiveness
Your first order of business to be aware of your pleasure-oriented habits. It’s best to keep a journal and list down the different categories of your impulsiveness, which may include video games, alcohol, and sugar. Put a checkmark each time you feel like doing any of them. The results may be shocking, but it’s the key toward making the requisite changes to help you avoid instant gratification.
2) Be mindful
In most cases, impulsive activities are done unconsciously. You may not catch yourself smoking your tenth cigarette of the day, drinking a bottle too much beer, or spending more time watching TV than finishing your office task. Mindfulness can go a long way in turning these bad habits into good ones. For instance, take time chewing your good instead of not taking breaks between bites. The mere act of chewing and swallowing reminds you to just enjoy the meal and be more mindful of what you’re putting inside your body.
3) Be resourceful and find alternatives
Bad habits are a result of boredom and stress. You may want to play video games just because you’re stressed at work. Or perhaps you munch on unhealthy snacks because you have nothing to do after work. Habits come in a cycle: you do an action, and you get a reward. Deferred gratification entails seeking alternatives to break the cycle. Prepare healthy meals beforehand so you have always had healthy options to eat.
Such small acts strengthen your resolve, enabling you to resist your urges, say no to temptations, and master deferred gratification to achieve longer-term goals.