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Instant Gratification 101 (and 4 Ways to Delay it!)

Author: Tammy Taylor, CPT

One of the most challenging aspects of our health journeys is forgoing immediate pleasures for long-term rewards.

Delaying gratification is a pretty simple concept. It means making a choice, which limits the ability of getting something now, for the pleasure of being able to have something bigger or better later. Meaning, if we don’t have the wine and a piece of cake now, we may not gain weight tomorrow.  Sounds simple, right?

The Stanford Marshmallow experiment, published in 1972 helps to prove just how not-so- simple this concept can be. In an experiment conducted by professor Walter Mischel, he tested hundreds of children’s ability to delay gratification by placing a treat in front of them; they could either have one treat now or two later. In the end, only about thirty percent were able to delay gratification for the full fifteen minute period, earning their second marshmallow. Not surprisingly, the children who were able to wait and receive the second marshmallow had higher SAT scores, lower levels of obesity, better response to stress, and lower levels of substance abuse as adults.

So how can you learn to become one of the thirty percent?

  1. Know your values – Values represent what is important to us. Often times, due to stress and all of life’s many obligations, it is too easy to forget why we are making the choices that we are making. We go from trying to live intentionally to living impulsively.  This means that even though we truly value our family and our health, we opt to eat fast food in front of the TV instead of having a meal at the dinner table with our families. Or we choose to check our social media accounts instead of taking a walk after work. Try writing down what you value most in life and then find ways to live as closely to those values as possible by making small, gradual changes. Just imagine what life would feel like if we lived according to what was truly important to us!   
  2. Daydream – Paint a vivid picture of what you want. What will you feel like when you lose 10, 20, or even 50 pounds? How will life be different?  What will you be wearing? What activities will you be doing? What will your relationship with your significant other be like? Create a vision so real that you feel you can reach out and touch it. And then, just like we work and save for a vacation that we have been dreaming about, begin to work and save for a new healthier you!
  3. Take the path less traveled – Forget status quo and what’s “normal.” What does it take to be the best version of you?  Social pressures can be a real struggle for most of us, but what is good for your neighbor Susie may not be very good for you!  We all have our own cards that have been dealt and all we can do is play our hands to the best of our abilities. Where it is easy to get into trouble is when we start comparing our hand to someone else’s. We say things like “she gets to eat whatever she wants and doesn’t gain a pound; it’s just not fair.” But in reality we have no idea what the full scope of this person’s life is, nor does it matter. In the end what truly matters is that we do the best with what we’ve been given.
  4. Practice gratitude – If we are happy with what we have and where we are, we are more likely to feel satisfied and content. Appreciate and be grateful for the ability to make a choice. Instead of feeling deprived for choosing to order a salad instead of the burger and fries your friend is having, why not feel privileged and proud for having the opportunity to choose something healthy and being one step closer to the life you have envisioned for yourself!