Personal Developments

How to Delay Gratification The Way Successful People Do.

The journey to great personal success are not always pleasurable. It is inevitable that sacrifices have to be made and the gratification of great success are rarely instant. When a person is constantly sacrificing his sleep and comfort for success that does not come overnight, frustration will start to build up. While most people have low threshold for frustration and would end up quitting to seek smaller but instantaneous sources of gratification. Few individuals appears to have an immerse capacity for tolerating frustration and impressive ability to delay gratification, ultimately putting in the hard work necessary for great success and actually being successful.

If the ability to delay gratification are so important to your chances of being successful, how it that you can improve your ability to delay gratification?

So in this post, we will look at three concept. Firstly, why are the ability to delay gratification so important to personal success. Secondly, why has the delay of gratification being so difficult to achieve. And lastly, the 4 effective ways you can use now to improve you ability to delay gratification.

Why is the ability to delay gratification important?

In 1972, psychology expert Walter Mischel conducted a marshmallow experiment on young children to measure their ability to delay gratification. When he followed up on children who showed great ability to delay gratification 17 years later in 1989, he found those children grew up to become cognitively and socially competent adolescents.

Children with great ability to delay gratification were observed to self-implement their own strategies to deal with the frustration of delayed gratification – strategies that they were never taught. This impromptu devising of strategies suggest that these children were acutely aware of the frustration that they were feeling and had to be dealt with. Given that these children had demonstrated the ability to devise strategies to deal with frustration spontaneously, it could suggests that they may have devised their own strategies to deal with similar frustrations when they were pursuing their personal goals. With proper strategies to manage frustrations, these children are more likely to delay gratification, more disciplined with their goals and hence achieving significant success early in life.

Similarly, any significant pursue of personal goals involves sacrificing time and comfort. And during the period o

Similarly, any significant pursue of personal goals will frustrate people because time and comfort will be sacrificed while gratification bought about by successes is delayed. And during this delay of gratification, frustration that are not managed well will cause individual to indulge in sources of instant gratification, as a form of coping mechanism in response to the frustration. This source of instant gratification includes sleeping, gaming or eating junk food and often sabotage your chances at success in life.

While there are no scientific means to accurately measure frustration and a person capability to tolerate it, psychologists assert that everyone have similar threshold to frustration. A threshold which when crossed will lead to people being overly frustrated and would seek out sources of instant gratification as a form of coping mechanism.

If everyone has similar threshold to frustration, what is it that separates successful people from the rest?

It does appear that successful people does not have high threshold for frustration but instead, it is their ability to manage frustration level well such that it never crosses their frustration threshold. If frustration never crosses their threshold, there is no need to indulge in instant gratification as a form of coping mechanism. People who can manage their frustration level better will find themselves more disciplined and do much more work than the rest and be successful that the rest.

For example, some people are capable of adhering to difficult diet in the pursuit of healthier life and better looking body. Whereas most people succumbed to instant gratification, succumbed to that bucket of fried chicken and sabotaging their goals of a healthier and better looking body. Likewise, there are people continue to work hard for distant goals despite tempted sorely to quit. Whereas other people fail to self-regulate themselves in spite of having similar ambitions.

Hence, the better you are at managing frustration, the better you are at delaying gratification and putting in necessary work for your goals. And the more likely you are at achieving great success later in life. Now the question is how do you improve you ability at managing frustration and delaying gratification?

4 Effective Strategies to Cope with Frustration of Delayed Gratification.

Whether or not you realize it, frustration builds up in you when gratification is delayed. It is the frustration that drives you towards immediate and less rewarding gratification as an unhealthy form of coping mechanism. However, there are more effective strategies in dealing with frustration that helps you delay gratification further.

#1 strategy: Think happy thoughts.

During Mischel marshmallow experiment, children were offered a marshmallow which they can have immediately or 3 marshmallow if they waited for 15 minutes. Just before the experiment commences, a group of children were taught to think of happy events and these group of children waited 26 times longer than children who were not taught any strategies. In fact, throughout the entire experiment, these group of children waited the longest for more marshmallow.

Clearly, simple thoughts of happy moments improves our ability to delay gratification and the reverse is true as well. It does appear that happy thoughts counter the frustration generated by the delay of gratification. Hence, it is important that a person think positively from time to time and particularly during period when gratification are delayed and work has to be done. For example, exercising, dieting or even during office work. Distract yourself from time to time with thoughts of happy moments or perhaps, photos of your family or recent vacations can invoke happy memories. These happy thoughts are effective counters to pent-up frustrations and help you avoid instant gratifications which sabotage your chances of success.

#2 strategy: Have a fun distraction nearby.

In another group of children, they were given an attractive toys instead of happy thoughts to play with during their wait for 3 additional marshmallow. These children performed 18 times better than children who were not given anything during their wait for more marshmallow. If the toys as a distraction can improves children’s ability to delay gratification , surely fun distraction in your life can improve your ability to delay gratification.

It is likely that distractions such as toys shifted their attention away from the rewards. And when the children were no longer paying attention to the marshmallow temporary, it appeared that they no longer desired the marshmallow during the distraction period. This could have helped improved their ability to delay gratification because you cannot be frustrated over rewards you do not desire.

In your life, there will always be something that you want. Instead of constantly focusing on those rewards and feeling frustrated over the need to wait or work for it, why not distract yourself from time to time. For example, lifting in weights in gym is a physically tiring process but only becomes mentally draining when you compare your own body with the desired body (rewards). Paying attention on the rewards makes the lifting of weights frustrating and harder for you to keep to your exercise regime as you are constantly indulging in instant gratification (resting, procrastination and eating junk food).

Similarly, dieting involves waiting till proper meal times and during the weight, hunger can make the waiting frustrating. And during the frustrating period, it is inevitable that you will start thinking of junk food (reward) which further increase your frustration. So the best way is to simply distract yourself while waiting for proper meal time. The distraction can be playing games or watching dramas.

Change your environment and improve your ability to delay gratification

As researchers have discovered, your environment plays a large part in influencing your ability to delay gratification. An individual offered similar rewards can display different willingness to delay their gratification when placed in different environment. By understanding how different environment affect our ability in delaying gratification, we can change our environment to improve our ability to delay gratification.

In the same marshmallow experiment conducted by psychology expert, the children were put through the same marshmallow and waiting experiment. Instead of a full view of the marshmallow, researcher covered the marshmallow with boxes after briefing them about the experiment. And results have shown that the lack of attention to the marshmallow helped the children delay gratification longer.

This shows that being in an environment where instant rewards constantly comes into your attention frequently can degrade your ability to resist temptations. Hence, you should start identifying sources of instant gratification that are near your workplace and start removing them from sight so that you would not be able to pay attention to them. For example, it is not recommended that you work near your bed as sleeping on your bed is a source of instant gratification. And definitely, the time spent sleeping can be better spent advancing towards your own goals if you delay the gratification of sleeping. This can be done simply by doing your work far away from your bed so that the thought/allure of the bed never comes to mind and it would improve your ability to delay gratification.

Similarly, for readers on exercising or dieting regime, junk food is your source of instant gratification. Junk food tastes good because it contains large amount of sugar, salts and fats. And frustration can build up when you abstain from food that are loaded with sugar, salt and fats. Those frustration makes you crave for those unhealthy food. If those frustration are not properly managed, the frustration will drives you to seek out those unhealthy food and sabotages your exercise or dieting regime. If you constantly find yourself failing to resist temptations of junk food then it is time for you to change your environment. It can be simply done by removing all junk food from your home so that you will never come across junk food. You might want to consider asking your friends or family to do the groceries shopping for you because junk food are often prominently displayed to attract your attention. Just like the marshmallow experiment, children who constantly pay attention to the marshmallow are less likely to delay gratification as compared to children who are not exposed to the marshmallow.

Having an reliable environment.

In another experiment conducted by psychology researcher Celeste, children were again asked to resist the temptation for more marshmallow. However, prior to the marshmallow experiment, the children were conditioned to have a certain impression of the researcher that they will be interacting with during the experiment. This conditioning was done by splitting the children into two groups and were promised attractive crayons and stickers. However, one group were constantly disappointed when the researcher deliberately fails to return with attractive crayons and stickers. While the other group of children always get attractive crayon and stickers as promised.

Interestingly, when the same researcher ask the children to delay their temptation for more marshmallow, almost none of the children who were constantly disappointed, waited for the marshmallow. Whereas in the other group, almost all the children waited for the marshmallow because in two events prior to the marshmallow test, the researcher have proven to be a reliable person and can be trusted to deliver the more marshmallow as promised.

This shows that a person willingness to delay gratification improves when the delayed but better outcome are guaranteed. This could explain why most people are salaried employees are more motivated than self-employed individuals because they are guaranteed a salary at the end of the month for a certain amount of work. Whereas as an self-employed individual, the monetary rewards can be rather ambiguous.

When you are in an unstable environment, delayed but better rewards are perceived to be unreliable. As the delay is a form of sacrifice and adds to your frustration, it is natural for humans to expect some compensation for the delay and frustration. However, if the rewards are not guarantee, the idea of delay gratification and going through frustration is no longer appealing and hence people fails to delay gratification. The immediate smaller rewards would appear much more appealing than a larger but delay rewards because the immediate reward is guaranteed. Can you imagine yourself working hard for a boss who fails to pay your salary?

As such, you need to identify source of instability in your environment. It could be previous failures where you had put in the effort to delay gratification but the delayed gratification fails to occur. Having many failures can set you up in a mindset where you feel that delaying gratification is no longer important to your success. And the best way forward is to appreciate that too many past failures can affect your perception of a stable environment and degrade your ability to delay gratification. Hence whenever you fails to delay gratification, you need to understand that it could be due to past failures and you have to find ways to convince yourself that all these failures are not real, they are just in your mind, no one is keeping tabs and you should never let past failures determine what you can or cannot do. Be like a child, do not fear failures and keep trying.

In conclusions, delay of gratification is important to your personal success. However, frustration builds up during the delay and when it is not well managed, you will find yourself indulging in instant gratification to compensate for the frustration. Over time, too much indulging in instant gratification sabotages your chances of success and hence delaying gratification is important if you want to be successful.

Research work done on a person ability to delay gratification reveals that strategies can be utilized to improve a person ability to delay gratification. And there 4 strategies namely 1) thinking of happy thoughts 2) having a source of fun distraction 3) removing rewards from attention and lastly 4) having a reliable environment. All these strategies are actually hard-wired into us and a form of natural instinct during period of frustrating moments. Just by being educated on these strategies, we can better control and enhance the effectiveness of these strategies, thereby assisting us in delaying gratification through proper management of the frustration caused by the delay. With better ability to delay gratification, I am very sure that each and everyone of my reader will achieve great personal success soon!

About the author


Neuroscience have seen rapid progress over the past 2 decades thanks to new advances in brain imaging technology. Join me in our pursue to unlock the secrets of our brain. Email me: Ben [at]