Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Temptation and Delayed Gratification

(Click to enlarge image on right)

Jobina and I recently visited some friends and were impressed by their ability to utilize delayed gratification. Although they are both making very good money, their house is moderately furnished. They have two older vehicles but both are nice and useful. They can be quite frugal. They are saving hard to pay off their home early and we couldn't help but be impressed by self discipline.

Delayed gratification is the ability to go without in the short term so that one can profit in the long term. Some examples:

1. Living frugally to save up money for a house.
2. Not eating sweets so as to be able to fit into a wedding dress or bikini.
3. Holding off on sex during dating so as to enjoy a guilt free and passionate marriage.
4. Investing early and consistently in life, even though it means going without some things, so that retirement is comfortable and secure.
5. Doing one's homework every night even if it means losing out on time with friends (so that one's grades are good enough to get into the right program or school).
6. Saving up your allowance to buy a big ticket item (like a computer, car, etc) and having to miss out on creature comforts that all your friends have.

Walter Mischel did a famous experiment dealing with delayed gratification, famously referred to as the Marshmallow Experiment. In the 1960s, a group of four-year olds were given a marshmallow and promised another, but only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not. The video below shows a renactment of what it might look like today:

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

The really interesting things is that the researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Here you see at an early age children who's unique personality make up and ability to delay gratification allows them to excel later on in life. Don't be too depressed though, if you were the child who couldn't wait for anything, you can learn to delay gratification - it will just be much, much more challenging for you.

It all comes down to impulse control - the ability to control the desire and urges that rage within us. Strong impulse control allows one to delay gratification, weak impulse control makes it very difficult to delay anything a person wants. Another famous impulse control experiment is the "gift delay," in which children were shown a nicely wrapped gift but told they must complete a puzzle before opening it. Researchers then calculated a "delay score" based on how long the children held out. When independent examiners interviewed the test subject years later, they found that boys who had not delayed were "irritable" and that the girls were "sulky." In contrast, the patient boys were "attentive" and the girls "competent." If you have low impulse control, think of it as a unique challenge that you will have to fight, possibly for the rest of your life. Accept it and begin to organize your life in a way that helps you to build it up and protect you from your times of weakness. Good luck!


TammyIsBlessed said...

Very cool - and totally make sense.

Jobina said...

love this! I'm definitely into immediate gratification. The marshmallow would be GONE!

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