The Happee Times
Invest In Your Happiness
What is Delayed Gratification?
Why is it an important skill to develop?
The continuum of self-control
Small steps towards developing self-control.
Delayed Gratification: A vital ingredient for success
Does the term ‘Candy Challenge’ spark something in your memory? The unforgettable TikTok challenge from the year we all wish to forget.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you play the guessing game. It’s the challenge where parents would place a child’s favorite candy in front of them and leave the room, instructing their child that they can have the candy but the condition is to wait until the parent is back in the room.
This challenge led to several adorable videos of children trying to resist the candies. It was a mix of some failing and eating them immediately, young siblings communicating their ‘candy securing’ game plan through mere eye contact, and some passing the challenge with flying colors. Apart from the laughs, we got out of these videos, what was the purpose behind this challenge? What were the parents testing?
The gross idea can be traced back to the Marshmallow experiment conducted by Walter Michel in the 1960s. The twist here was that children, aged 4-5 years, were given an option of 1 marshmallow now or 2 marshmallows later, the kid version of 1 crore in cash right now or a house worth 2 crore which you cannot sell for another year. The researchers followed up these children for about 40 years and checked in, time and again.
The findings indicated that children who were able to delay their gratification during the experiment showed success in most domains of their lives, years later. These included lower levels of substance abuse, lower chances of obesity, better SAT scores, remarkable social skills, etc.
It is now time to unveil the principle behind these experiments, drumroll… ‘Delayed Gratification.
Delayed gratification is the ability to be able to delay or resist gratifying an immediate impulse in the hope of receiving a comparatively more valuable reward later.
In simple words,
You resist eating a burger today in the hope of having a healthier body in the future.
You resist watching another episode of your favorite show in the hope of completing your homework and getting good grades.
You resist your urge of cancelling plans in the hope of having good relationships later.
Why is it an important skill to develop?
Human beings are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Self-control is, at its roots, about being able to take temporary pain in the hopes of long-term pleasure. Delayed gratification is closely associated with the capacity for self-control.
As the above example indicated, most good things in life come from self-control and being able to choose short-term pain in exchange for long-term pleasure. Be it, the pain of choosing a workout over a nap, choosing to snack on carrots instead of chips, choosing to take risks and applying for jobs instead of avoiding that effort, etc.
Hence, if you reflect, on every point of your daily life, the routine you choose to have, or the long-term goals you set for yourself, all require discipline and self-control. Once you master self-control and start practicing it at every opportunity, you see start seeing results. Once you’ve witnessed this process, you start trusting yourself to accomplish whatever you set your mind to.
The continuum of self-control
It is essential to understand self-control in terms of existing on a continuum which means that it is not an absolute concept (you have it or you don’t). We can think of it as being measurable on a scale of 0-10. What is the rationale behind grasping it this way? It is so that we can throw light on the fact that both the extreme ends of this continuum could potentially be maladaptive. Now that we know the benefits of self-control, the negatives of the standpoint of 0 self-control are self-explanatory. What about 10? How can being an ultimate master of self-control bring about any negatives?
Self-control does have an uncountable number of benefits but when practiced to an extreme level can lead to regrets and a lack of consistency. Just like being too future-oriented leads to missing out on everyday pleasures, always restricting yourself can lead to a lack of consistency and eventually giving up on good practices. How so?
Imagine being on a healthy diet where you are trying to eat very clean and practicing self-control on a daily basis. You have your goals very clear and trying your best to accomplish them. Now we all wish that our favorite foods like brownies or burgers could’ve been in the healthy foods category but, unlike chocolate brownies, the reality is bitter. If your goal is to completely cut off ALL foods in the unhealthy category for an entire year, meeting this aim is going to be harsh. Instead, setting realistic goals like eating clean for a month and then having a cheat day to savor your favorite foods will give you the right balance of staying consistent, achieving your health goals as well as enjoying the little pleasures of life (chocolate brownies, I mean).
Since life is more than just brownies and marshmallows, let’s see how ‘taking short-term pains in the hope of long-term pleasures’ can be applied to other situations that arise in our lives. Experiential avoidance, a concept from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), is also conceptualized on similar lines.
Experiential avoidance is seen when one avoids certain experiences because they cause negative feelings. Sounds very natural but experiential avoidance can cause further distressing feelings and emotions if continued in the long term.
This concept is complex and we’re not trying to deep dive into that level of complexity but the take away here is that certain experiences in life are bound to cause feelings of self-doubt, discomfort, anxiety and other negative feelings but we need to learn to go through these experiences, keeping in mind our ‘why’ and our future aspirations.
Not going to that networking event is easier because it’ll protect us from the feeling of discomfort and anxiety but, in the long run, getting out of your comfort zone and befriending this discomfort will reflect growth, personally and professionally.
We began with delayed gratification but navigated our way through concepts like self-control, discipline & experiential avoidance. We need to keep our focus clear and need not get lost in the terminologies. All the terms might be different but work on the same ground principle, “delaying our short-term pleasures in the hopes of long-term ones”.
Small steps towards developing self-control
Distraction: something we can learn from the children in the ‘candy challenge’ videos was the art of distracting ourselves. This doesn’t seem to apply in every situation but in some situations, just distracting ourselves for a reasonable amount of time can prove to be helpful. For example, it isn’t your cheat day yet and you’re craving that chocolate bar in your fridge. Occupying your mind with thoughts about something can work momentarily but remember to not just distract but also replace. Satisfy your sweet craving with some Greek yogurt or sweet fruit.
Conscious choices: this is about the conscious choice you made by choosing the yogurt/ fruit instead of the chocolate. Being mindful and making choices consciously, can apply to any and every situation you can think of. Be mindful of what you decide to spend your precious time on, what you put inside your body, the small decisions you make throughout your day, and the goals you set in life.
Why: Self-control is rooted in the awareness of your long-term goals. You can control yourself and regulate your behavior only when you are clear on why you are trying to regulate your behavior in the first place. Children in the marshmallow experiment were very clear that their self-control was going to bring them 2 marshmallows instead of one and that is what kept them going. If you are trying to discipline yourself into building a good habit, clearly state your ‘why’.
Eyes on the reward: setting a reward system has never failed anyone. Reinforcements are a great way of staying consistent and practicing self-control. If you are planning on treating yourself to an episode of your favorite show after completing your assignment, make sure you fulfill that promise. Rewards form associations in our mind, if you fail to treat yourself, delaying the gratification of your wants will become tough the next time because your brain might remember the unreliability of the set reinforcements.
The more you put self-control into practice, the greater benefits you’ll see, and the easier it will become to turn this into a habit.