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Delayed Gratification: Benefits, Examples & How to Control Your Impulse

Delayed Gratification and Impulse Control

Understanding delayed gratification and why we struggle can help us develop a more healthy and well-balanced lifestyle.

Delayed gratification is the ability to resist an immediate reward to obtain a larger or more enduring one. While this might sound like a simple task, it’s a relatively complex behavior.

Understanding delayed gratification is an essential part of understanding cognitive processes and our ability to use willpower to overcome negative impulses and impulsive behaviors.

This article will discuss delayed gratification and impulse control and how these concepts relate to happiness and a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle.

What is Delayed Gratification? Definition

Delayed gratification means the ability to put off an impulse or desire for immediate reward.

Put simply, it’s resisting temptation, and as the famous saying states: “The best things in life are worth waiting for.”

Delayed gratification can be seen as a cornerstone of emotional intelligence.

Research suggests that people who can delay gratification and resist impulsivity will be more likely to succeed in life than those who don’t.

This is because delaying gratification helps us learn important life skills such as setting goals, maintaining discipline, and following through on tasks even when we don’t feel like it.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

In one famous experiment conducted by Walter Mischel of Standford University, a group of preschool children was given a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small prizes if they waited for a short period.

So, for instance, the child might be offered a single marshmallow now or two marshmallows in a few minutes.

Mischel’s results found that the children who were able to wait longer for the larger reward tended to have better life outcomes, including higher SAT scores, educational attainment, and body mass index.

Why Is Delayed Gratification So Important?

While delayed gratification might seem like an unimportant topic, understanding how to delay gratification can help you live a more happy and more well-balanced lifestyle.

Here are just some reasons why delaying your desires for immediate gratification is essential:

It helps us plan ahead

One key aspect of delayed gratification is setting goals and following through on them. For instance, if we want to lose weight, it means resisting the unhealthy treats on offer in favor of something more wholesome.

Similarly, if we’re going to change the way we think about things or improve our current situation, delaying gratification can be a powerful tool for helping us achieve this.

It helps us learn important life skills

Delaying gratification is not an easy thing to do and requires the use of willpower.

This means that by learning how to delay our gratification, we are also strengthening our ability to develop discipline and persistence – both vital traits that will help you throughout your life.

It helps us understand ourselves better

Understanding why you make certain choices can give you valuable insight into who you are as a person.

By understanding why you go for immediate gratification and what this says about who you are, you can make changes and form new habits.

Delaying your gratification also helps others

Whether we like it or not, we live our lives among other people – some of whom we care about and want to help.

By learning how to delay your gratification and develop more discipline, you can use these skills to help those around you.

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight with your partner, learning how to delay your gratification can mean that both of you benefit.

Examples of Delayed Gratification

Let’s now look at some examples of delayed gratification in action.


Many people wake up and automatically reach for the biscuit tin or a sugary drink. Some might not even wait till they’re out of bed before doing this.

However, if you want to start living a healthier lifestyle, you’ll need to learn how to resist these desires in favor of something more nutritious.

Similarly, snacks such as candy and chocolate might seem like nice treats when we get home from work, but if we really want to lose weight, it means learning how to resist temptation and choosing something lighter instead.

Physical pleasures

As much as many people enjoy physical pleasure, there are times where we need to take a step back and think about what kind of an impact our actions will have on us in the long term.

For instance, you might want to go out and buy a new pair of expensive shoes, but if this is going to put you in debt or leave you unable to pay your other bills, it means that the gratification of owning the shoes isn’t worth the consequence.

Social interactions

Whether it’s stopping ourselves from getting annoyed with someone else’s bad habits or just trying not to react when someone says something upsets us, learning how to delay gratification when it comes to our social interactions can be difficult but rewarding.

For example, if someone cuts in line while you’re waiting patiently for your turn at the bank, many people have trouble controlling their urge to give them a piece of their mind.

However, this reaction will only escalate the problem and lead to an argument where no one emerges victorious.

Instead, waiting patiently for your turn is a more rewarding form of delayed gratification.

Financial wellbeing

Learning how to delay gratification when it comes to money has its upsides too.

For example, if you have big plans but don’t have the savings right now, you need to learn not to spend all your money on the immediate present instead.

For instance, if you want to start running your own business, learning how to save some money might mean that it takes longer before you can reach that goal – but at least it will still be achievable.

On the other hand, mistakes with money are often a result of trying to have your cake and eat it. This means that you’re trying to live simultaneously as being financially irresponsible.

If you spend money on things that don’t matter, you need to learn to delay gratification and only buy the essential things.


From getting a degree or diploma to becoming an entrepreneur, there are many opportunities in life where we choose what we want from ourselves and our lives.

However, this often leads us into a place where we can’t decide between two good options, so instead try for both of them simultaneously – which is impossible.

For example, if you start saving up now for your own business but also need a part-time job to tide you over, this means that you’re going to be financially unstable for a long time.

In contrast, if you decide to focus solely on one thing and delay the gratification of the other option, it might mean waiting longer for your business to take off – but at least it will be well-deserved when it does.

As we’ve seen from these examples, there are countless ways to learn how to delay gratification that can positively impact our lives.

How To Exercise & Improve Your Ability To Delay Gratification?

Here are the items you need to exercise to improve your ability to delay gratification.

Give Definitive Time-Frames

If you’re trying to learn how to delay gratification, you must give yourself definitive time-frames.

For example, if you’re trying to exercise each day or read a chapter of your book every night before bed, then the vague goal of ‘trying harder’ will never work for you.

Instead, this means giving yourself realistic deadlines and committing to them.

The right time frame will vary depending on the length of time required to achieve your goal. However, suppose you’re making a daily commitment.

In that case, it’s best to use the specific number of days that this process usually takes – for example, committing to exercising every day means that you have to go seven days before you can permit yourself to miss one day.

Set Realistic Deadlines

With the above in mind, it also means that whenever someone says they want something but can’t find the time – they need to set more realistic deadlines.

This will help them identify their priorities and what’s truly important.

If you’ve got kids, then it might seem impossible to get to the gym every night, but you could go twice a week and still make a big difference to your health.

Likewise, if you’re trying to learn how to delay gratification – it’s best not to make a day-by-day promise until you know yourself better.

In contrast, committing to exercise every day for three months upfront is more likely to help you achieve that aim.

Delayed Gratification in Relationships

Delayed gratification is helpful in relationships because it’s hard to have a good relationship if you always give up.

You might want to try to be patient so that your relationship can last longer.

People might also need to be patient when finding the right partner.

You can put yourself out there slowly and avoid rushing into too many things or rushing into a commitment too early by withholding sex or other parts of the relationship until you’ve decided it’s worth pursuing.

Delayed Gratification Quotes

Here are some of the best quotes about delayed gratification.

  1. “Great investing requires a lot of delayed gratification.” – Charlie Munger
  2. “The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term to enjoy greater rewards in the long term is the indispensable prerequisite for success.” – Brian Tracy
  3. “Immaturity is the inability to delay self-gratification.” – Mike Murdock
  4. “Emotional self-control– delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness- underlies accomplishment of every sort.” – Daniel Goleman
  5. “Patience is a godly attribute that can heal souls, unlock treasures of knowledge and understanding, and transform ordinary men and women into saints and angels.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
  6. “To become grateful, I must learn that I can handle disappointment and delayed gratification with grace and perseverance. ” – John Ortberg
  7. “What you want and what you need aren’t always the same. Be willing to delay short-term gratification for long-term greatness.” – Mandy Hale
  8. “Happiness can be defined, in part at least, as the fruit of the desire and ability to sacrifice what we want now for what we want eventually.” –Stephen R. Covey
  9. “I believe the sign of maturity is accepted deferred gratification.” – Peggy Cahn
  10. “Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” –

Delayed Gratification FAQs

Is delayed gratification good?

Delayed gratification is usually a positive form of gratification. In the world of business, you must know how to delay a reward and keep working for the long term. Entrepreneurs almost never achieve success overnight.

Instead, it takes years or decades of hard work to get any sort of payout. Knowing how to say “no” in the short term to achieve your long-term goals can also benefit your health and career. Therefore, there are many circumstances where delayed gratification can be used to your benefit.

Is delayed gratification emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence and delayed gratification are not the same concepts. However, they are intertwined in some aspects. For example, it may be instantly gratifying to scold your employee after they make a mistake.

You may feel powerful as a result, but it negatively impacts the relationship you have with that individual for a very long time. However, if you use delayed gratification, you can resist the impulse and use your interpersonal skills instead.

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