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General Self-Discovery

We live in a world of instant gratification. Whatever you need, you can order immediately with the press of a button and have it delivered within a few short days, which feels like an eternity sometimes. If you do not want to make dinner, you can pick up your favorite comfort food without having to get out of your car, or someone will bring it to your house, even in the middle of the night. You can request for someone to do your grocery shopping and even laundry is now automated. My personal favorite is the ability for my coffee maker to have my “morning fuel” ready before I am even out of bed!

According to the American Psychological Association (2018), instant gratification is “meeting or satisfying one’s needs or wishes without delay.”  It is human nature to seek pleasure, comfort, and the satisfaction of our needs. It can be painful or uncomfortable to have to wait for a need or wish to be fulfilled. Therefore, it can be tempting to seek the quickest escape or avoidance of this pain – even if that means forgoing something better in the future.

A cute experiment was conducted around this topic in the 1960s by Walter Mischel and his team at Stanford. It was nicknamed ‘The Marshmallow Experiment’ because it asked preschoolers to choose between eating one marshmallow immediately or waiting for two marshmallows later. The researchers measured the length of time each child could wait to eat the first marshmallow. As the children grew up, the researchers continued to collect pertinent data regarding their lives for more than 40 years!

Astoundingly, the study found that the children who had waited for the second marshmallow had “higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures” (Clear, n.d.). In other words, the experiment showcased numerous gifts of delayed gratification, or resisting smaller rewards for a bigger reward.

Additional research has showcased the importance of delayed gratification for decision-making, goal setting, and self-regulation. Many do not like the discomfort of waiting seasons, but the in-between can be a sacred place of slowing down long enough to connect and befriend ourselves. This concept may feel foreign, but it is a skill. Therefore, like any other skill, it can be developed or fine-tuned. How does one do this? Consider it like a muscle that needs to be targeted and utilized daily to build its strength.

To train yourself in the art of delayed gratification, set a goal. Make it something specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-specific. Examples may include learning to crochet a scarf by December or running 3 miles non-stop by March. Then choose one thing to do each day this week to work towards that goal. Start small! Commit to something small and choose to do it over and over again, even when you want to quit. This begins to rewire your brain into believing that distant outcomes are worth the wait and perseverance.

Parents, you can help your littles build the skill of delayed gratification by modeling this behavior to them or reflecting the big feelings that they experience while waiting. This simple practice provides your kids the comfort of knowing that the discomfort or pain they experience is not bad – nor does it make them bad to experience it. Furthermore, you can utilize nature to teach your kids (and yourself) the beauty that is cultivated in waiting. Planting something and waiting for it to grow; viewing the sunrise; watching the leaves change; or witnessing the wondrous transformation of a caterpillar into a breathtaking butterfly remind us all of the beauty that can be found within the gifts of delayed gratification.

Sources

American Psychological Association (2018). Instant gratification. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/instant-gratification

Clear, J. (n.d.). 40 years of Stanford research found that people with this one quality are more likely to succeed. Retrieved from https://jamesclear.com/delayed-gratification

Hyatt, M. (n.d.). The myth of fun, fast, and easy (and why it keeps you from getting the results you want). Retrieved from https://fullfocus.co/fun-fast-easy/

Li, P. (2022). Instant gratification: definition, examples, and how to help. Retrieved from https://www.parentingforbrain.com/instant-gratification/

Vaillancourt, M. (2022). How to help kids break free from instant gratification. Retrieved from https://www.moms.com/how-to-help-kids-break-free-from-instant-gratification/