We are always presented with two choices. The first choice is where we choose to avoid pain and go for immediate pleasure. And the second choice is a more painful and difficult one where you choose to delay gratification, do the painful work first before you get to enjoy the pleasure.

Delay gratification is hard. Most people fail to achieve their goals because they choose immediate pleasure than going through the pain.

If you have a choice to choose between working out in the gym or sitting on your comfortable couch and watch your favorite drama series on Netflix, which would you go for?

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’

Muhammad Ali

You are always presented with choices in life, at every moment.

You can choose to stop reading this article and check updates on Facebook, or you can sacrifice your leisure for a moment, read this article and understand how delay gratification works so that in future, you can make better choices.

  • You can choose to work on your blog right now or you can choose to watch TV.
  • You can choose to exercise or choose to eat the junk food.
  • You can choose to work on your goals or choose to play games on your phone.

As you can see, it is all about making the right choices. And to make the right decision, you must learn how to delay gratification.

Marshmallow Text: Immediate Pleasure VS Delay Gratification

Have you heard about the famous Marshmallow Experiment that has been widely spread in the personal development industry?

A professor from Stanford University, Walter Mischel conducted a series of experiments to discover what is the most important characteristics to succeed in life. And one of the tests is the Marshmallow Test.

In the experiment, Mischel and his team conducted the test on hundreds of children between the ages of 4 and 5.

The test began by bringing each child into a room and got them to sit down on a chair. And then Mischel and his team placed a marshmallow on the table in front of the child and made an offer.

The researcher told the child that he was going to leave the room for a couple of minutes. And if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, he would reward the child with a second marshmallow.

However, if the child ate the first marshmallow that was placed in front of him/her before the researcher came back, they would not get the second marshmallow.

In short, the test was simple: to eat one marshmallow right now or to have two marshmallows later.

And so the researcher left the room for 15 minutes. The video footage of the children waiting alone in the room was rather entertaining.

  • Some kids jumped up and grabbed the marshmallow and put it into their mouths right after the researcher left.
  • Others wiggled, scooted, and moved around to suppress their temptations for the marshmallow.
  • Some would try to close their eyes but eventually gave in.
  • And some of the children actually waited until the researcher got back and got two marshmallows.

The Power of Delayed Gratification

The Marshmallow Test was just the beginning. Many years later, a follow-up study was conducted on the grown-up children.

What Mischel and his team discovered on the follow-up was surprising.

According to Mischel, the children who delayed gratification and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up getting higher SAT scores, have better social skills, and able to cope better with stress according to their parents.

In general, the children who resisted the temptation and delayed their gratification did better in most areas of their lives.

From this article published on Britannica.com, another similar study was also conducted on delay gratification and here’s what the article said:

“The situation, adapted for adolescents and teens by the psychologist Edelgard Wulfert and her colleagues, also revealed that middle- and high-school students who can wait a week for a monetary reward earn higher grades, show less problem behaviour in school, and are less likely to use cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs than their peers who choose not to wait.”

In conclusion, delayed gratification is an important factor that will greatly impact your success in life.

I bet you can relate…

  • When you delay the gratification to watch TV or play games and get your work done, you will produce more results and make progress toward your goals.
  • When you delay the gratification to eat the cake or dessert and choose to exercise and workout, you will have a healthier and fitter body.
  • When you delay the gratification to check updates on social media or to watch YouTube and choose to write articles for your blog, you end up having more content on your blog that will bring in more traffic.

And more real-life examples, which I think you can relate.

success is hard work

How to Improve Your Ability to Delay Gratification

Can you see why your ability to delay immediate pleasure is important right now?

Your ability to delay gratification and do the difficult tasks first says a lot about your characteristics, and hence, your success in life.

Think about it, people who have the ability to say “no” to immediate pleasure and choose to act on their goals are people who have stronger willpower. And the more willpower you have, the more you can tap into your inner motivation to get things done.

The good news is that your willpower works like a muscle. The more you train it and use it, the stronger it becomes.

Meaning, the more you delayed gratification, the stronger your willpower. And the stronger your willpower, the more you can delay gratification and say “no” to immediate pleasure that will take your focus and attention away.

It works both ways.

This is why people who have stronger willpower, people who are able to delay immediate pleasure and choose to work on the difficult stuff first, are the people who are more successful.

So, how can you improve your ability to delay gratification? Here are some tips for you:

1. Start with a goal

Start with a goal. You need to have a goal to guide your choices. The more specific your goal, the better you are able to make the right decision to reach it.

You want to have a goal to remind yourself of what you need to do.

For example, if your goal is to write a blog post today, and you are bombarded with the options whether to write the blog post or to watch TV, you know how to choose.

Your goal serves as a great reminder and helps you in making the right decision to get what you want.

Most people fail to produce extraordinary results in life because they choose immediate gratification rather than delaying it. This is because they don’t have a clear and specific goal to guide them.

Plus, don’t just set goals, commit to them. You need to be 100% committed in order to achieve your goals.

Taking blogging as an example, most people know that writing an article is important for their blog’s growth, but still, they choose to watch TV or play games instead. Their goals are not something that they truly desire. Their goals are just mere wishes.

When you are truly committed to achieving your goals, you will do whatever it takes to make progress and reach it.

You will delay gratification and choose to work on your goals rather than choose to have immediate pleasure right now.

Read: 55 Useful Tips How To Set Goals And Achieve Them

2. Hold yourself accountable

Hold yourself accountable

If you want to develop the ability to have better self-control and delay gratification, you need to hold yourself accountable.

There is no point to just think about what you want but are not doing anything about it. Thinking and doing are two different things. And this is why accountability is important.

Hence, you want to get someone to watch your work and progress.

Get yourself an accountability partner. It can be anyone from your friends, colleagues, to your spouse. As long as there is someone holding you accountable, you will do much better than having no accountability at all.

According to a study done by Dr. Gail Matthews, when you send a weekly progress report, your chances of reaching your goals improve as much as 76%.

You are putting yourself on the line when you tell someone your commitment actions and what you are going to do.

You know that someone is watching you and your reputation is on the line, thus, this increases your accountability and forces you into doing the task.

For instance, if you want to workout in the gym, get an accountability partner to do it with you. When you know someone is waiting for you in the gym to exercise together, you tend to be more committed to doing it.

This is how you can increase your ability to delay gratification. By having an accountability partner, you become more committed and less likely to be affected by immediate pleasure.

Read: 7 Easy Ways How to Hold Yourself Accountable for Your Goals

3. Take a mental break

When you are busy, tired, and lacked motivation, you are more likely to choose to procrastinate and get rewarded immediately.

Hence, get some mental breaks, especially during the day. Take enough sleep. And exercise regularly to boost your willpower and your ability to focus.

According to this article from FastCompany, one good way to delay gratification is to daydream.

“…that people who let their minds wander from time to time–at least when it’s not critical to stay focused–are more likely to reconnect with the longer-term goals they have, which mean a lot more to them than the stuff that’s instantly gratifying.”

So take your time to have a mental break and daydream.

Whenever you have completed a task, don’t jump straight to your next task on your to-do list. Instead, take a couple of minutes to rest and recharge your mental energy.

You need to maintain your willpower and keep your motivation strong in order to say “no” to whatever temptation that comes later.

A lot of people have the thought of starting a part-time online business. They thought that they can work on their websites after they got back from work at night.

The truth is that most people are tired because they have used most of their willpower and mental strength in the day when they work.

And when they get back home, they are exhausted and they just want to rest and do something that is more pleasurable.

This is why most people fail to stick to their plans.

When your willpower and mental strength are low, you will choose immediate pleasure rather than delay gratification and work on what you have planned.

Thus, get some rest. Recharge yourself from time to time so that you will have a higher energy level and willpower to act on your goals.

Read: The Importance of Taking a Short Break According to Research

4. Avoid the temptation in the first place

Another clever idea to increase your ability to delay gratification is to avoid the temptation in the first place.

Well, you know, if you are someone who cannot resist shopping, just don’t go to any mall and shopping center.

If you are on a diet plan and you don’t want to take in any junk food, stop meeting your friends in a dessert café. As easy as that.

When you remove the temptation, you stop the trigger that invites you for the immediate pleasure.

This is why productivity experts suggest turning off the Wifi when you don’t have to work using the internet.

Allowing yourself for internet access only increases your chances of procrastination and distractions. Of course, this is for the case when you don’t have to get online to work.

Therefore, remove yourself from the temptation when possible. Think about a way to get rid of the temptation for immediate pleasure.

5. Build a supportive environment

Build a supportive environment

The environment or the surrounding that you are in is one of the most underrated factors that influences your willpower and motivation.

In fact, the environment plays a very important role in shaping your life.

When you try to ask most people what does it take to be successful, they will tell you that you need willpower, motivation, hard work, grit, talent, effort, etc.

But you will never hear them say that you need the right environment or the surrounding. It is true that willpower, motivation, effort, and talent do contribute to someone’s success, but environment also plays an important role.

If you want to know how the environment can affect your motivation and thus, your performance, just imagine yourself trying to read a book in a noisy location, like in a wet market. Can you do that?

Of course you can, but the noise can distract you and it will be wiser to read the book somewhere more quiet, right?

The culture of your company, the people you mix around with most of the time, and your surroundings, can influence your decision making and hence, shape your destiny.

Therefore, if you want to improve your ability to delay gratification, use the help of this invisible force.

There was a study done in a hospital by a physician named Anne Thorndike at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In the study, Thorndike and her team changed the location of how the food was placed in the cafeteria of the hospital.

Thorndike and her team discovered that when they add bottled water to refrigerators that were filled with soda and also placed baskets of bottled water throughout the cafeteria, the sales of water bottled increased while the soda sales dropped.

This is how your environment and surrounding can affect you.

Thus, change and improve your environment to work for you, not against you.

Transform your environment so that you become more likely to delay gratification to work on your goals rather than to procrastinate and choose immediate pleasure.

Read this article to learn how you can do so:

Read: 9 Tips How to Change Your Environment for Greater Motivation

6. Remember your bigger purpose

One of the biggest reasons why some people are able to delay gratification is because they constantly remind themselves of their bigger purpose.

If losing weight becomes your main priority and you keep this goal in your head all the time, when a plate of chocolate dessert is placed in front of you, you can still push it away because you are conscious about your purpose for losing weight.

Brian Tracy once said:

You become what you think about most of the time.

Brian Tracy

And he is absolutely right. You are always affected by your thinking. Your thinking shapes your life.

Most of the time, people procrastinate because they fail to connect themselves with their bigger purpose.

This is why you must keep your goals in your head all the time. Consciously think about them. Create reminders like using a vision board to remind yourself of what you want.

This way, whenever the temptation comes to you, you are able to say no and reject immediate pleasure.

So choose to consciously think about your dreams and goals. Choose to think about your purpose and why you want to achieve what you want in life.

This is how you avoid can avoid procrastination and get into the action mode.

Read: Why Clarity of Purpose is Important to Success and How to Get It

7. Maintain and grow your momentum

In order to delay gratification and to choose to work on what you are supposed to do, you must maintain your momentum.

In other words, you must immerse yourself deeply into what will make you avoid instant gratification so that you will do the work.

Let me give you an example.

If you want to build a successful blog, but you are only talking, thinking, and working on your blog once a month, guess what, there is no momentum at all.

If you want to grow the momentum and keep your motivation strong, you must think, talk, and work on it as much as possible.

Professional sports athletes have better skills because they immersed themselves whole-heartedly into the sports and the games.

Working on your goal full-time allows you to focus your energy and effort fully into achieving the goal.

If you start an online business and treat it like a hobby, guess what, you will receive hobby-like results.

And when this happens, you are more likely to procrastinate and to choose instant gratification over delayed gratification.

This is why a lot of people say that they want to build a successful internet business, but they don’t do it. They choose the instant pleasure of playing games or watching the TV rather than working on their websites.

All because they did not fully immerse themselves in their goals.

Never let this happen to you.

If you want to delay gratification, you must get yourself into momentum. Don’t just think and talk about your goals, do it. Take action and organize your life around your goals. Make your goals the #1 priority and everything else must give way.

When you approach your goals this way, you will gain greater momentum and able to delay gratification to work on them.

Read: How to Keep Your Momentum Going and Stick to Your Plan


Your ability to delay gratification is one of the most important keys to success. How do you think Warren Buffett is able to earn so much money from the stock market?

Well, it is because of his ability to delay gratification. When he bought a stock, he holds on to it, no matter how the market performs. Most people choose to sell immediately when everyone is shouting that the market is collapsing, but not Buffett.

He knows how to divorce himself from his surroundings. You can read my article here to learn how Warren Buffett did this.

Again, here are the 7 tips again to help you develop your ability to delay gratification:

  1. Start with a goal
  2. Hold yourself accountable
  3. Take a mental break
  4. Avoid the temptation
  5. Build a supportive environment
  6. Remember your bigger purpose
  7. Maintain and grow your momentum

Do you think delay gratification is important in your life? And what can you do to say “no” to the immediate temptation?

This article may contain affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. As always, I only recommend products and services I trust.

I'm a blogger, writer, and also an internet entrepreneur. If you want to learn more about me, kindly go to the About page. By the way, have you downloaded your FREE copy of Reach Your Goals? Don't forget to do so. Cheers. :)


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  3. Trevor Goodchild Reply

    Love this article man. It’s always easier said than done right? So many talk about big goals but run in place without getting anywhere because of the inability to delay short term gratification. Hopefully your readers can improve their ability to achieve goals by following the tips provided in this blog post.

    • Shawn Lim Reply

      Hey Trevor, yea, it is always easier said than done. And those who have done it are those who is willing to choose to sacrifice the short term pleasure for the long term gain. 🙂

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