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The Ability to Delay Gratification Can Predict a Person’s Success

having the ability to delay gratification can indicate how high their salary would be/ Photo By Fisher Photostudio via 123RF


Being able to restrain oneself from receiving immediate gratification can determine whether or not a person will earn more, research shows. The study which was based on the Marshmallow Experiment was published in the Frontiers Psychology journal, and conducted by researchers from the Olson Lab of Temple University. Their experiment had 2,500 participants who were assessed on their ability to delay their gratification by surveying them if they would like to have a small amount of money sent them as soon as possible or if they would rather have a large amount of money given to them even if they had to wait for as long as a year.

Authors of the study discovered that aside from education and a person’s chosen job, having the ability to delay gratification can indicate how high their salary would be. Dr. William Hampton, the lead researcher, gives this advice to parents, “If you want your child to grow up to earn a good salary, consider instilling in them the importance of passing on smaller, immediate rewards in favor of larger ones they have to wait for.”

He adds that it may be may not easy since not many people like to wait. However, the results of their study reveal that individuals who are able to delay their own gratification are improving their earning potential.


individuals who are able to delay their own gratification are improving their earning potential/ Photo By Kamil Macniak via 123RF


The Marshmallow Experiment

In the 1960s, Professor Walter Mischel from Stanford University and his colleagues performed on an experiment on hundreds of children ages three to five. He made every child go into separate rooms, sit on a chair and placed a marshmallow on a plate in front of them. After that, he made a negotiation with each child. He told them that they could have the marshmallow as soon as he left, but if they could wait for 15 minutes until he came back, they would receive another marshmallow. The ones who have already eaten the marshmallow would not be given an additional marshmallow.  

Children did different things as he left them on their own. Some quickly ate the marshmallow after he was gone. Some children struggled to wait, but could not resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow in front of them, so they gave in. Lastly, a small group of children was able to patiently wait for their second marshmallow and they were rewarded accordingly.

Forty years have passed and they conducted more experiments on the group who succeeded in waiting for their extra marshmallow. They found that these children did better in many aspects of their lives. These children grew up scoring higher in their SAT exams, were better at socializing, coped with stress in healthier ways, had a reduced risk of substance abuse and had a lesser probability of being obese.

James Clear, author of the article 40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are Likely to Succeed, explains how delaying gratification is related to success. He notes, “Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction. And that’s what delayed gratification is all about.”


being able to delay one’s gratification or satisfaction is a characteristic which is found in successful people/ Photo By mavoimage via 123RF


Experience Determines How Well Someone Can Delay Gratification

The Marshmallow Experiment was conducted again by another group of researchers, but this time, the children were divided into two groups: those that were subject to reliable experiences and those that had to go through unreliable experiences. Besides using marshmallows, the experts from the University of Rochester also used crayons and stickers.

The first group of children was provided with a small box of crayons. Then, they told the children that later, they will bring them bigger ones. Yet, they deliberately broke their promise. Afterwards, they were also provided with small stickers with the promise of bringing them better stickers. Again, they did not actually give them the promised stickers. As for the second group, they received both the crayons and the stickers which the researchers had promised to give them.

In the second half of their study, that was when they imitated the Marshmallow Experiment. The first group which was exposed unreliable experiences did not trust the researchers to bring in a second marshmallow, so they ate it immediately. The second group, who had the stickers and crayons delivered to them as promised in the previous part of the experiment, were able to wait longer for their next marshmallow. Their study, Rational Snacking: Young Children’s Decision-making on the Marshmallow Task Is Modulated by Beliefs and Environment Reliability was published in 2013.

How to Improve One’s Ability to Delay Gratification

Fortunately, though it may be difficult, it is an ability that can be acquired through training oneself. There are four strategies a person can use to improve their ability to delay their gratification. These techniques are:

1. Start small and make it easy to do.

2. Improve that habit by at least one percent and do the same the next day.

3. To have consistent results, use the Seinfeld strategy. (This involves a person setting themselves to do one particular task every day, whether they are inspired to do it or not. Once they are done doing that task for the day, they have to mark that day on a calendar with an “X”. The goal is to do that task each day to make a chain of X’s and to not break that chain. For example, if a person’s goal is to improve their memorization skills, they may try to memorize a page of a book for each day. After memorizing a page, they can mark the date on which they have done it with an X.)

4. Look for a way to begin your task within two minutes.


Benefits of Being Able to Delay Gratification

Psychology Today states that being able to delay one’s gratification or satisfaction is a characteristic which is found in successful people. A person with this trait is able to flourish more in their relationships, career, and finances. As Aristotle had discovered in 300 BC, pleasure does not always mean happiness. Having the ability to control one’s own impulses can make a person gain more rewards in their future.  




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