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

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. 

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.


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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What is The Key?

The KEY to better relationships, improved finances, and achieving peak performance isn't somewhere "out there" in another book, seminar, or training program, it already exists within you. You don't have to go find it, you just have to unlock it... and that's what show you how to do on The Key Podcast.

Paul desmond adams

Personal development coach

purpose | goals | career | relationships | Wellness

Paul is a super high achiever trapped in a misfits body. He's dreamed of and worked towards the highest levels of success, but held back by disorganization, distraction, and procrastination. He's always known what to do but hasn't been able to do what he knows... and it wasn't his fault. 

John hawkins jr, M.S., L.M.H.C.


peak performance strategist

John is a licensed psychotherapist who has helped thousands of people deal with past trauma, addiction, and broken relationships. After years of helping people breakthrough their internal blocks to success, he now realizes most us KNOW what to do, we just don't DO what we know... and it's typically not our fault. 

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