Top 5 Ways To Master Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification is the prime mover behind long-term achievements, like getting a promotion or losing weight to fit your favorite jeans. 

It’s the ability to consistently use your time for what’s important and beneficial, and making good decisions, delaying or outright denying what’s unimportant and unhealthy. 

It takes patience and determination to grow your apple seed to a fruit-bearing tree. Delayed gratification builds that patience and grit. 

With today’s digital advancements, we’ve become used to instant gratification– parcels delivered to our doorsteps within a day, videos loading in less than a second, payments done within a few clicks. Every process is automated and catered to deliver speedy convenience.

This and the uncertainty of an outcome makes delayed gratification challenging to master. But it’s all the more worth it. It is a powerful tool that greatly helps productivity and self-improvement.

Delayed Gratification As A Success Predictor

In the 1960s, American psychologist Walter Mischel aimed to measure a person’s ability to delay gratification at a young age and whether it can predict success later in life. 

In this famous experiment, he gave each of his four-year old participants one marshmallow. The experimenters told them to wait for some time and they will be given a second marshmallow.

When the experimenter left the room, some of the children immediately ate the first marshmallow while only a few waited for the second one. 

Years later, Mischel found out in his follow up study that the children who waited for the second marshmallow had less behavioral problems, higher SATs, and better health than the children who immediately succumbed to their first one.(1) 

Mischel’s study proves that when you know how to forego immediate gains in favor of a later but greater purpose, you can conquer every aspect of your life!  

How Delayed Gratification Benefits Your Life

You Gain New Skills. 

Practicing delayed gratification is a mental strength. 

When you drop sources of instant gratification in favor of pursuing a skill, you succeed in sharpening that skill. Athletes and musicians train for hours and days with single-minded focus. Experts spend most of their time day in and day out studying or working in their field. 

This doesn’t mean they don’t have other interests. Stephen King, the novelist, doesn’t stop writing until he has reached 2000 words. In sticking to their schedules and goals, these people utilize delayed gratification.

Practicing delayed gratification is a mental strength.
Eric Champ | Founder Champ City Holistic Fitness

If you think upskilling is taking too long, examine how much time you actually give it, or do you let yourself be distracted? Delayed gratification helps you learn and master skills. 

You Become Healthier.

Investing in a strong body is constant work and self-discipline. 

Delayed gratification helps you steer clear from instant feel-good food without nutritional value. You might leave them for your cheat day later in the week as a treat. 

You also practice delayed gratification when you get off the bus one stop away from your destination so you could walk, or when you take the stairs instead of the elevator.  

You Become Financially Stable.

Practicing delayed gratification helps you stick to budgets and savings goals. You prioritize your money and set financial limits. You don’t do impulse buying because you always wait an amount of time before purchasing.

You Improve Your Relationships. 

In any relationship, it’s not always about what you need. Mastering delayed gratification teaches you to listen and empathize instead of reacting to emotions, yours or theirs. You become patient so you can communicate and understand each other. 

It Rewards You Lasting Happiness.

All the above benefits lead to real happiness. You’re proud of yourself for your skills and expertise, a healthy body and mind, and healthy relationships with your family and friends. 

Top 5 Ways To Master Delayed Gratification

When you know how to practice delayed gratification, you wait. You don’t react to your brain’s learned responses or your emotions pushing you to respond right away. This applies to all aspects of life. 

Here are the top 5 ways to master delayed gratification.

1. Resist And Delay Impulsive Reactions.

When we’re angry, our brain has the tendency to quickly react negatively. In the spur of the moment, it’s satisfying to return hurtful remarks we received, or just let out frustration with a slammed door or raising your voice.

We say things we don’t really mean. The emotion we feel is momentary but the words that leave our mouth stay forever.

If you have trouble controlling your anger in an argument, take a pause and breathe. Count from 1 to 20. If you still want to say words you’ll regret, count again. Or ask to leave the room and continue later. When you feel levelheaded, you can respond rationally and with a fresh perspective.

We say things we don’t really mean. The emotion we feel is momentary but the words that leave our mouth stay forever.
Eric Champ | Founder Champ City Holistic Fitness

It’s the same with decision-making. Never make a decision based on emotions alone. Take a day or more to think and weigh the pros and cons.

It’s gratifying to feel like you fought your corner or made a quick decision. But real victory only comes from being kind and wise. Sure, you can and should respond to an insult or say no to this or that, but there are situations when you win by delaying your response.  

2. Resist Procrastination: Resist The Entertaining Stuff.

It will only take a minute. Just one episode. 

You’ve heard this rationale in your brain, maybe even several times a day. And you probably already practice delayed gratification by not heeding that voice and waiting until lunch or you’re done with work. 

When you create and stick to time blocks, you stay productive and intentional instead of getting trapped in a time suck of watching an entire season. It’s a pitfall especially since many of us work from home now.

Commit by setting realistic deadlines based on your priorities and abilities.

Know which times of the day you’re most productive and prioritize the tasks that require the most energy. For your downtime, you can set a timeblock for your favorite things, whether that’s Netflix, spending time with your family or going out to meet friends.

3. Resist The Comfort And Certainty Of Easy Things.

One of the biggest challenges in mastering delayed gratification is the uncertainty of a goal when compared to the alluring certainty of the ‘now’ and other things you already know, like this workout over that new one, or this food instead of that one.

The problem with easy things is we also rationalize them in our heads. “I can burn as many calories on the treadmill.” or “I can just buy the sandwich. The processed ingredients aren’t that bad.”   You have these excuses you can fire away so easily and they lead you to backsliding from your goal or new, healthier habits.

Remember, the familiar isn’t necessarily easy. Buying that sandwich at the deli with those processed cheese slices and dressings? You can easily make a delicious, healthier sandwich at home, with real, natural ingredients. 

Instead of hopping on the treadmill, start the new workout your trainer recommended. Just pick the better, wiser choice. Before long, you’ve trained your mind to always pick the smart choice rather than the easy and the familiar. 

4. Delay Impulsive Purchases Of Things You Don’t Need.

The advent of online shopping just made delayed gratification more challenging and more important. From our mobile phones, a whole variety of products is within our fingertips. Everyday, we see discount coupons and attractive sale promos.

So we buy, thinking we can save some money– especially if the product is useful, say a new pair of workout shoes or gym equipment (that might just end up gathering dust like your other equipment).

Fill up your cart but don’t tap that checkout button yet.

To curb impulse buying, let the product sit on your cart for hours or days. Think of the reason why you’re buying it. Are you just buying it because it seems interesting? Is it something you really need?

5. Create And Update Rules About Your Resistance And Delay.

To succeed in delayed gratification, you need to sustain your motivation and keep distractions at bay.

1. Identify Temptations And Constraints.

Plan ahead and prepare solutions for possible drawbacks around your goal. For example, to execute your fitness plan, what comfort foods do you need to remove from your fridge and pantry? Should you lay down your workout clothes at night so you can get into them immediately in the morning and you’re not tempted to sleep in?

List all the factors that can affect you and address them, whether it needs to be eliminated, substituted, or adjusted. Maybe you need to change your route to work or your favorite park so you don’t pass by a certain cafe when you’re cutting down on sugary coffee. 

Think of possible scenarios and solutions. Decide what to do if an inevitable event causes you to eat food that’s off your diet plan. You can add a set of exercises to compensate for the extra calories you gained. 

2. Wait Or Create Distraction Techniques.

When you want to do something that’s against your goal, put it off for a while. Don’t act on it.

You can also distract yourself with healthy alternatives. When craving sweets, turn to fruits, yogurt or a healthy snack. I know some people who took up knitting or crocheting so their hands are occupied instead of browsing their phones on social media or Amazon. 

3. Use Productivity Tools.   

Build positive habits with the help of productivity tools to make work easy.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld mastered consistency by employing his own system.

The Seinfeld system works by putting a whole-year calendar on the wall and marking a day of writing with a red marker. The series of red marks is a visual cue that tracks your progress and compels you to continue.

Use technology to your advantage with productivity apps. 

GoalScape is a program that gives a visual representation of your goals and tasks. If you feel overwhelmed with tasks, focusbooster helps you set up time blocks. This app is based on the Pomodoro technique where you break down work into short intervals separated by short breaks.

4. Create A Reward System.

Sigmund Freud’s pleasure principle tells us that our tendency as humans is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So it’s natural for delayed gratification to feel tough to conquer.

So reward the pain to trick your brain into liking the “pain” of working hard and making good decisions.

According to a study, setting a reward system for employees leads to increased levels of employee performance.(2)

While delaying gratification in favor of a long-term goal, reward yourself every time you complete mini-goals. Treat yourself to a movie, a healthy yummy treat, a session with your favorite game, or a spa day.

Key Takeaways  

In today’s world of instant everything, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to delay gratification. 

You don’t even have to think of it as delayed gratification. It’s simply staying away from unhelpful habits and things by thinking through their consequences.

You want to get that ‘second marshmallow’, right? Get started now!


  1. Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Rodriguez, M. L. (1989). Delay of Gratification in Children. Science, 244(4907), 933–938.
  2. Noorazem, N., Sabri, S., & Mat Nazir, E. (2021). The Effects of Reward System on Employee Performance. Jurnal Intelek, 16(1), 40-51.

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