No one said delayed gratification was sexy.

Delayed Gratification: The Not-So-Sexy Key to Success

Instant gratification is sexier than delayed gratification. It’s decadent, indulgent, and it’s dopamine releasing.  That means we get a rush (cue James Brown).  Sadly, instant gratification can be a smoke screen and hurdle keeping us from the things we want the most.

Delayed gratification is by far the most reliable road to success. Yet we have become accustomed to fast and easy.  We all want the most with the least amount of effort and delayed gratification is none of that.

Let’s face it.  Delayed gratification often feels like a sacrifice.  Seriously, who doesn’t want to eat that ice cream, buy that bauble, sleep in later, avoid the hard work?  Who wants to deny themselves?  Who doesn’t want what they want when they want it?

We need to recalibrate.

Benefits of Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification actually brings us more satisfaction and happiness in the long run (and isn’t that better than sexy?).  It has many benefits that many of us may have forgotten.

Delayed gratification develops self-confidence.

Delayed gratification is the repeated exercise of self-control.  Self-control helps us accomplish our goals.  Every time we say no to that ice cream we get closer to our health goals. Every time we put in the extra hours to learn a new skill at work it helps our career.  Every time we pass up the opportunity to buy a new toy and save the money instead we get closer to our larger goal, whether it’s the new home, that dream vacation, seed money for a business opportunity,  your kid’s college fund, or an even bigger toy you’ve been drooling over. The more we accomplish the more we become confident in our abilities.

Confidence erases a lot of stress.  We don’t need to wonder about our abilities or our worthiness, we have proof.  “Look what I did!” We mastered what we could control.

Delayed gratification develops resilience.

There are a lot of things in life that we can’t control.  We make plans.  Life laughs at us and says, “Not today!”.  This requires more delayed gratification because many times we have to start at the beginning.  We need to repeat all that delayed gratification that we already did.  The upside to this is that it makes us stronger.

Every time we readjust it gets easier it becomes more manageable because we know that since we did it before we can do it again.  If we didn’t have this we would never accomplish our most important goals.  We would just quit and say it couldn’t be done.

Delayed gratification heightens appreciation and joy.

A byproduct of not getting what you want when you want it is a greater appreciation and joy when you finally do get it.  It gives you contrast and comparison.  That treat is so much more satisfying when you’ve had to work hard to get it.  Events are more joyful when you’ve been without.

We’ve all seen that child who gets the occasional ice cream cone.  They are excited and appreciative and thankful.  We’ve also seen that kid who gets treated on a daily basis.  It’s no longer a treat, he turns into a brat and complains it isn’t big enough or there aren’t enough cookie dough pieces.    The occasional treat is a delight and savored while the every day is commonplace and insignificant.  We as adults do the same thing.  How much more do we appreciate our health after we have been sick?  How much more excited are we when our bank accounts have a positive balance when we have experienced lack?

Delayed gratification helps build motivation.

As we practice delayed gratification and earn small wins in our plans, it helps to build motivation and momentum to do even better.  This leads us back to the self-confidence aspect.  We do it, we grow confident, we want to do more.   The more we do it, the more wins we get the more we want better results.  It is self-perpetuating.

Delayed gratification can ease guilt. Click To Tweet

Delayed gratification eases guilt.

By using delayed gratification we can make more good decisions that bad decisions.  Every time we make a decision contrary to our larger goal, it comes with the aftermath of guilt. “I am trying to lose weight but I ate that piece of cheesecake and now I feel bad.” “I really want to save money to start a business but those shoes were so cute and now it will take me even longer to get to my goal.”  And if we’re not careful we can compound our guilt problems, “I hate myself for buying those shoes and sabotaging my goal so I ate a piece of cheesecake to feel better and now I am even wondering why I bother.”

When we make good decisions we don’t need to feel guilty so we don’t have that added emotional weight on us.

Strategies For Building Our Delayed Gratification Muscles

Delayed gratification is easier said than done.  We have to put some action behind the ideas if we want to see it materialize.

Make a plan.

This should seem obvious but we should never assume.  We need to examine our priorities and write them down.  We need to set our goals in every area of our life (our lives are holistic, we have to treat them accordingly) and write them down. We have to decide what actions we will take to get us there and write them down.  We have to decide what is worth giving up now to get what we want later and write it down.

Why am I putting so much emphasis on ‘write it down’?  It has been shown time and time again that people who write it down achieve more of what they want.  It is also because at some point you may get frustrated and you are going to need to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing.

Analyze your returns.

That sounds sort of funny in this context, doesn’t it?  When you are practicing delayed gratification you are investing in something you really want.  This works the same for health goals as it does for financial goals as it does for relationship goals.

If you are trying to determine if you should eat that bucket of fries at the county fair, think about how much exercising you are going to have to do to counteract that to meet your goal weight next month. Is it worth the splurge or would a better ‘return’ be to not have it?  Those really expensive tickets to that concert, how many hours do you have to work to get them? Is it worth that many hours to you?  Is it worth spending an evening at that “ridiculous” event your significant other wants to attend so you can bring them joy?

Make decisions based on what you think would garner the greatest results or maybe even acceptable results.  Be truthful with yourself.

Plot your progress.

Visualize your milestones. Watch your progress.  When you see it makes you less likely to want to erase the gains you’ve made.  Post it where you can see it.

Write down your wins! Make a graph! Fill in a pie chart! Get creative with it!  For some really interesting visuals, check out what Amy Jones came up with at

Reward yourself.

Small rewards along the way can help us stay motivated and accomplished.  We need to be smart about it, though.  Keep it relative and modest.  We’re looking to stay motivated not start all over!  Hit a financial goal?  Open a special bottle of wine.  Lost 20 pounds?  Buy a new pair of jeans.  Reached a career milestone? Sleep in over the weekend.

Focus on other pleasures.

Delayed gratification is not the easy route. At times it can even be discouraging and disheartening.  Instead of focusing on the unpleasantness of what we are giving up or the extra hard work we are putting in, we can focus on other parts of our life that our good.  It doesn’t do us much good to lament the extra hour that we have to put in at the gym but how much fun is it to focus on that great family outing we are taking over the weekend or that concert we are looking forward to.  Let’s remember all the other cool stuff going on around us.

Get Right Back On Your Horse

If we falter we have to forgive ourselves and get right back at it!  It isn’t the end of the world.  It just means we get another chance to practice patience and resilience and our ability to overcome to become.  But that is another blog post….

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