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5 Ways to Become Better At Delaying Gratification (Why It Matters)


Click a button and your Amazon package is at your door within 24 to 48 hours. Post a picture and immediately hundreds of your friends like it. It’s no wonder that in a world full of instant gratification we struggle with delaying it.

Learning to delay gratification is key to lasting satisfaction. Because when you delay gratification, you realize that your happiness is not dependent on your external environment and that the things worth having will always be worth the wait.

This article will teach you how to break the addiction to instant gratification so you can experience peace and happiness long term.

Why do we want instant gratification?

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you want something so quickly?

If you’re like me, the answer often stems back to the idea that the thing or experience will make you happier.

And who doesn’t like the sound of a big old hit of dopamine? It always sounds great to me.

Research confirms this theory as it shows that when we make a decision regarding a reward we activate the emotional centers in our brain.

Once our emotions are involved, self-control can become more difficult. The potential to become more impulsive and go for instant gratification is likely increased.

And it doesn’t take a genius to realize that once you have instantly received a reward, it only makes you want the next thing just as fast.

I swear Amazon has mastered this. I remember I used to think it was a miracle if the thing I ordered online came within 2 weeks. Now if I don’t have it within two days I get frustrated that it’s too slow.

But as humans we’re addicted to the idea that something outside of us can improve our mood and give us that happiness that we all seem to be seeking. It becomes clear over time though that none of this instant gratification is actually making us happy.

At least not in the long run.

Why you should delay gratification

So if you can get that dopamine buzz from instant gratification, why would you want to delay your gratification?

Well, the infamous marshmallow study done in 1972 is about to answer this question for us. The study investigated whether or not children could delay the gratification of eating a marshmallow.

They could either have one immediately or two if they waited for a period of time.

The results were fascinating because the children who were able to wait were found to be more successful and resilient throughout their lifespan.

Other studies have confirmed these findings and found that people who delay their gratification even have better memory and capacity to adapt in life.

On a personal note, any time I’ve delayed my gratification I’ve learned the benefit of hard work. And the anticipation of the reward can almost be more enjoyable than the reward itself if you learn to love the process.

So if you want to be a bit more gritty, resilient, and successful, it’s time to consider working on delaying gratification.

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5 ways to delay gratification

Let’s dive into 5 ways you can kill your addiction to the instant dopamine hit and instead replace it with a lasting happiness that doesn’t quickly fade.

1. Wait at least 24 hours

This tip may sound simple, but you’d be surprised at how effective it is. I use this one often when it comes to online shopping or wanting to make a big purchase.

If I find an item online that I want to buy immediately, I’ve put in place a habit of waiting 24 hours. If in 24 hours I am still just as excited about it and find it necessary, I’ll buy it.

Doing this has saved me tons of money and helped me realize how often when we go to make purchases it’s based on our mood.

Don’t just hit order. Wait 24 hours. You might be surprised how your opinion of that thing in the cart changes in the next 24 hours.

2. Remind yourself of your goals consistently

On a less material note, a good way to delay gratification is to remind yourself of your goals often.

This one comes particularly in handy for me in the evenings. I have a tendency to have a sweet tooth and would eat dessert every night if I let my monkey brain have its way.

However, I have goals in relation to my fitness and health that would be impeded by having nightly dessert. So what I’ve done is I’ve taped my running goals on the inside of my snack cupboard.

When I see them visually in front of me, I’m reminded of the reward of doing well in a race that I’m working hard towards. And this reward is so much better than the quick high from a good tasting dessert.

You don’t have to tape your goals to your cupboard. But you do have to find a way to remind yourself of why you’re not instantly gratifying yourself on a regular basis in order to achieve worthwhile goals.

3.Take a social media break

This one may sound unrelated to instant gratification. But trust me, it’s not.

When was the last time you scrolled Instagram or TikTok and didn’t find yourself at an external link checking out a product? These apps are designed with intention and influencers have a motive for why they do what they do.

Social media is the sneakiest form of marketing because it's relatable. And the more you scroll, the more you think you need that thing to be as happy as that person.

I’ve found myself buying so many unnecessary skin or beauty products to try to look like my favorite influencer. There’s no shame in this.

But if you want to learn to delay gratification, taking away a key stimulus for constantly gratifying yourself quickly is a great way to do it.

I’ve gone a bit extreme and deleted my Instagram account because it’s a big trigger for me. You don’t have to go that far. But maybe consider a week or two off.

Just become aware of how it affects you and your impulses. Because once you’re aware of these triggers, you can better avoid them and learn to delay the need for instant gratification.

4. Ask yourself what the real cost is

Another way I’ve become better at delaying gratification is to ask myself this question. What’s the real cost of the thing or the action you’re about to take?

For example, if I’m about to make a big purchase I try to think about how many hours of work it’s going to cost me. When you realize that one item could be half a week of work it makes you think twice.

Or if I’m about to eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting I’ve learned to ask myself what is this potentially costing my health. It’s a huge spike in blood sugar and it’s bound to cause GI distress.

The real “cost” (and I don’t just mean the monetary cost) of a quick hit reward is not always worth the reward itself. Consider the cost and whether that instant euphoria is really worth it to you.

5. Frequently challenge yourself with longer goals

Sometimes we’re not good at delaying gratification because we’re not practicing it. Just like anything in life, delaying gratification takes practice.

A good way to practice this is by setting goals that are a good challenge for you and will take time to achieve.

I’ve started to set goals that I almost think I won’t be able to achieve that I know will take months of consistent effort. By doing this, I’ve learned the value of hard work and when I do achieve the goal the feeling is indescribable.  

Right now, I’m training for an ultramarathon. People tell me all the time I’m a special kind of crazy for running distances longer than a marathon.

Maybe they’re not wrong. But by learning to show up each day and work towards what I know will eventually be a big pay off, I’m learning how to be more resilient and enjoy the struggle.

Practice delayed gratification by challenging yourself with big goals. The happiness on the other side of achieving that big goal is more than worth it.

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Wrapping up

It’s tempting to want all of life’s rewards to happen with the click of a button. But this isn’t a recipe for lasting joy. Using the tips from this article, you can break your addiction to instant gratification. Because when you learn to delay gratification, you start to realize that you alone are the creator of your happiness and nothing can take that from you.

What's your take on delaying gratification? Does it come easy to you, it do you struggle with it? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

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Ashley Kaiser

Writer

Physical therapist, writer, and outdoor enthusiast from Arizona. Self-proclaimed dark chocolate addict and full-time adrenaline junkie. Obsessed with my dog and depending on the day my husband, too.

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