Instant Gratification vs. Delayed Gratification

Instant vs. Delayed Gratification - CrossFit Fringe - Columbia MO


As it should be no surprise to any of you, we live in an age of instant gratification. We want it and we want it now.

(Note: If you haven’t, I’d stop and take a second to read Angelo Fosco’s post about Trusting the Process before diving into what I’m about to tell you. Fringe promo, BOOM!)

What is Instant Gratification?

The character of Veruca Salt from the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory comes to mind when I think of instant gratification. Dancing around the golden goose eggs and telling her father (over and over again) that she doesn’t care how, she wants what she wants right now.

Veruca Salt - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - CrossFit Fringe - Columbia MO

That’s pretty much the definition of instant gratification. Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment. Basically, it’s when you want it, and you want it now. More examples? We eat all the pleasurable foods the moment we feel a craving. We surf the web, play video games, or watch TV like time and other obligations don’t exist and spoil ourselves with purchases whenever we see something we like. No planning, no thinking ahead, just on a whim. These impulsive pitfalls can lead to wasted time or not meeting obligations, poor health, and financial debt just to name a few.

Now, instant gratification isn’t all bad. We’re practically hardwired to seek gratification and approval. And there’s nothing wrong with being rewarded for doing good work right? It’s also not the end of the world if we indulge once and a while. Donuts and kitty condos don’t buy themselves!

The problem arises when we feel (whether internally or due to the plethora of marketing we get hit with daily) that we can’t be happy unless we are instantly satiated.

Many people definitely know the urge and desire for instant gratification Veruca has, but declining the small reward you could have now may net you a larger, more enduring reward down the road (spoiler: it worked out for Charlie, he was a smart boy).

So then Delayed Gratification must be…?

…the ability to put off something smaller or mildly rewarding or fun right now in order to wait for something of greater pleasure or accomplishment that will come with time or longer effort later. Examples might be setting a budget and goals to eat simply and affordably, plan and balance recreation with work and other obligations, and live within your means. Doing so could allow you to save for special meals or vacations, or dedicated time spent making memories with those you love. This one is very important in my own life, ie. Mitch and Jessie adventures on Facebook.

Mitch and Jessie Stout Adventures - CrossFit Fringe - Columbia MO

The impressive power of delayed gratification can be seen in a study known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Professor Walter Mischel studied a group of four to six-year-old children who were given one marshmallow, then left alone in a room for fifteen minutes. They were given the choice of being able to eat the marshmallow right then and there, or waiting the full fifteen minutes, and earning two marshmallows. Ultimately, while some were able to wait, others were not.

Change ain’t easy

Shifting from a mindset built on instant satiety to something that requires goals and long-term focus isn’t easy. It can often be overwhelming and tough to keep on track. So, here are some steps/advice that can help you overcome that instant gratification mindset:

  1. Create a plan and acknowledge your vices: devise goals/benchmarks, and the choices and sacrifices you need to make to get there. Additionally, know your vices and what makes you susceptible to them. A great tip is to create a tally of every time you get an urge (mindfulness tool) and look for common threads and ways to avoid them.
  2. Delay: no surprise here. When you encounter a desire, hit pause and don’t act right away. Step back and analyze the situation in order to fully consider your choices.
  3. Make conscious, thoughtful decisions: when you take the time to think before acting, each decision will be made more consciously, instead of gratifying our desires on a whim. Consider both the benefits and drawbacks, including how it will directly impact your goals.
  4. Learn and improve over time: your decision-making will get better over time if you continue to be patient, mindful, and consistent.
  5. Find other (better) ways to still enjoy the moment: life is meant to be enjoyed, but there are always different ways to enjoy it. Donut or a handful of berries? Both are delicious and both can be done mindfully. One is healthier, but either decision can lead to happiness if done mindfully and consciously.

Two marshmallows are better than one

Mischel’s study didn’t stop at kids eating marshmallows. Researchers continued to study the children into adolescence. Those children that had been able to delay gratification were found to be psychologically better adjusted, more dependable and self-motivated, and better students. They were again studied in 2011 and found to possess the same characteristics through adulthood.

Mitch and Jessie Stout - CrossFit Fringe - Columbia MO

Delayed gratification, although not delivering the instant satisfaction of getting what you want immediately, can yield not only a greater reward, but long-term improvement in your mental outlook (mindfulness, appreciation, optimism, resiliency), problem-solving skills, willpower, ability to reach goals faster, and overall appreciation for all the gifts of life. A life well-practiced in delayed gratification will definitely experience a lot less buyer’s remorse.

So go out there and make mindful and conscious decisions that make that delayed gratification feel wonderful down the road.