November 29

KEY 030: Delayed Gratification Isn’t Always Good for You

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What if I told you postponing pleasure isn’t always the best path to take? Even worse, what if doing so actually has negative consequences?

A plethora of research shows how the ability to defer immediate satisfaction leads to increased problem-solving abilities, higher levels of goal achievement, and a greater degree of financial success. 

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One of the early studies validating the benefits of delaying gratification was a research project by Stanford University psychologist Walter Mischel known as, The Marshmallow Experiment. Mischel offered a group of four-year-old children the option of taking a single marshmallow now or two if they waited for him to return from running errands. 

The majority of the children chose to eat the marshmallow now. Mischel then interviewed the children fourteen years later and found those who had delayed eating the marshmallow had higher SAT scores, were more self-confident and resilient, and could handle stress more effectively.

The initial thoughts were the children who ate the marshmallow first offered, struggled to delay gratification. However, after analyzing the data further, Mischel came to the conclusion these children were not incapable of postponing pleasure, they did so as a value judgment on what would bring more life satisfaction. 

Present-Hedonist VS Future Oriented

He termed the marshmallow eaters as present-hedonists and the delayers as future-oriented. At first glance, it would appear the better strategy would be to delay gratification and focus on long-term goals. However, research shows there are benefits to being present-oriented and several negative outcomes to being future-oriented. 

Research shows there are benefits to not delaying gratification sometimes.

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The Ups and Downs of Both Types of People

Present hedonists’ strengths are being creative, spontaneous, and more open-minded. Furthermore, they tend to be better at building social networks and close relationships. The potential downside of being in this set is they are more prone to mental health problems, addictions, lower income levels, and greater difficulty dealing with failures and setbacks.

Following over thirty years of research, Zimbardo found the happiest and most fulfilled individuals have learned to blend these two time orientation perspectives.

The upside of being future-oriented is superior levels of both physical and mental health, better problem-solving ability, higher incomes and levels of career success, and increased resiliency.

The downside is higher levels of burnout, heart attacks, gastro-intestinal issues, divorce, and difficulty maintaining long-term friendships. 

Following over thirty years of research, Zimbardo found the happiest and most fulfilled individuals have learned to blend these two time orientation perspectives. The best combination is a balance of the spontaneity, exuberance and joy-filled living of the present hedonists and the determination, persistence, and long-term planning of the future-oriented.

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7 Traits of Deliberate Practice

Discover the unique practice strategies used by the very elite in virtually every field of work. Implement these into your routine and you'll quickly find yourself at the top.

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About the author 

John Hawkins Jr. & Paul Desmond Adams

John and Paul work together to bring real scienced-based personal development strategies to people frustrated with poor results from past efforts. John is a licensed psychotherapist and peak performance strategist while Paul is a former national radio host with decades of experience in personal development, productivity strategies, as well as expertise in digital media.

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