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Instant or Delayed Gratification?

There’s this idea that delayed gratification is always best – that true success is found through complete discipline toward a laser focused goal. That you should wait to do what you love or what brings you joy. Keep working and you’ll get what you want! One of the most hilarious videos I’ve seen that seems to validate this is the Marshmallow test. For the Marshmallow test, researchers sit a young child in a chair with a table in front of them. On the table is a plate with a single marshmallow. They then tell the child they can have two marshmallows if they wait to eat it until the researchers come back. Some kids squirm. Some kids just eat the marshmallow. Check out these kids. It’s hilarious.

For the study, they tallied the choices of the kids at a Stanford university pre-school and then tracked them throughout their lives. At the end of the study, they concluded that children who chose and/or had the ability to delay their gratification would be more successful.


A bit later on, they repeated the same study, but included children from many different and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Ultimately, they couldn’t replicate the results. In fact, it instead proved that a child’s capacity to delay gratification was directly related to how affluent their parents are. So guess what? The Marshmallow test doesn’t really reinforce the idea of incredible discipline and success – instead, it basically helps you determine how much wealth someone’s parents have. This flies in the face of so many attitudes we tend to have for ourselves and others. And it’s a bit scary to accept if you’ve been telling yourself your time will come. Think about how many times you say things like… When I have more time, I’ll… When I make more money… These phrases can be valuable, but not when there’s no defined goal. How much is more/enough? Instead, these phrases become an excuse by masking our lack of action or initiative with some sort of responsibility or “wisdom.”

That being said, it’s not as if there is a solution or attitude that is one-size-fits-all. Some things genuinely require decisive action immediately, while others require things outside of our control to manifest or “line-up.” Depending on what you’re trying to say/do/achieve, instant gratification can be necessary. We can’t wait to get to the point if we want to be successful. We need to be there. Now. Other times, we need a slow gradual build knowing we will be there eventually. We bide our time to make our eventual arrival truly meaningful. It wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t delay gratification. Yet overall, everyone’s situation, goals, and aspirations are different. There is no defined or best path for everyone. We all should be deciding for ourselves when we wait or just eat the marshmallow. Perhaps it’s possible to do both at the same time? If we’re too busy taking decisive action or biding our time and working, there isn’t space to let things happen, analyze how you fit within it all, and find your natural place. Go ahead, take a moment to figure out what’s truly right for you. You’ll be glad you did.

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