Picking the slow line at the store. Being stuck in traffic. Waiting to hear back from someone after a first date.
What are: Things that make us cringe.
In general, humans don’t like to wait. Instant gratification is, well, instant, and much preferred to delayed gratification, which requires patience. Delayed gratification is resisting our impulses for an immediate reward in the hopes of receiving a more valuable reward in the future. It is the ability to WAIT to get what we want.
There are countless health applications to this concept (e.g., quitting smoking, avoiding unhealthy snacks to lose weight, doing extra reps in a strength workout, etc.). In fact, the most cited and foundational ‘delayed gratification’ study is based on eating marshmallows. It involves preschoolers and is adorable—read more here.
If you are wondering why delayed gratification is worthwhile, research shows that it's a behavioral trait that can predict success. And thankfully, it’s a skill that can be learned and improved. When you learn to delay your immediate needs and desires, you are able make decisions that promote a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Here is my current struggle that is not only teaching me patience, but will hopefully shed some light on how to master delayed gratification:
Situation: At the end of 2016, I hit a slick spot on the freeway and crashed into a cement wall. Praise God that I walked away injury- and scratch-free. My car definitely did not. As I was test driving new and used cars, Ford announced (in Jan. 2017) that they were coming out with a new version of the Bronco after a 20-year hiatus. I had always loved Broncos and decided to wait for the new model. I will spare you the details of the ongoing delays, but let’s just say that I’m still waiting. The 2019 release was postponed to 2020 and then to 2021 and finally to 2022. Today, I finally sat in a model of my beloved Bronco at a dealership. Exciting, yes! Frustrating, yes... as I continue to wait for my delivery date which is likely still a year away.
Here are ways to stay motivated when practicing delayed gratification (and how I’m able to restrain myself from buying a Dodge Challenger in the meantime):
Know your values: Identifying what is most important to you will allow you to wait for your long-term goal. For me, having my ideal car is more important than practicality or convenience.
Celebrate mini-milestones along the way: Having a clear timeline with periodic check-ins and rewards can sustain you. Even though Ford wreaked havoc on their timeline, there were things I could get excited about during the wait (announcements, sneak previews, making a reservation, road shows, etc.)
Focus on the benefits: Think about your ‘why’ and what you will ultimately achieve. When I visualize myself driving a brand new Bronco, and think about how I’m working on improving my patience, I’m able to see the value in waiting.
Distract yourself or practice ‘out of sight, out of mind’: Staying busy and focusing on other things keeps your mind occupied. I actually had to unfollow Bronco enthusiasts on social media and stop visiting forums to prevent myself from getting frustrated.
Know yourself and set yourself up for success: Find ways to tap into what you know about yourself and what does and does not work. I purchased a personalized (Bronco-related) license plate to commit myself, and continue to update friends and family along the way to keep me excited and accountable.
Stay positive and be grateful: Practice a positive mindset. Every time Ford announced a delay, I would remind myself that having a car is a privilege and to be grateful for a husband who shares his truck with me.
When I FINALLY get to drive my Bronco, I will have been waiting 5+ years—MUCH longer than I would have liked or thought possible. But it will be worth it (probably 😉). If nothing else, I got a (painful) crash course in delayed gratification. If we can adopt and practice a mindset that values patience and delays our immediate needs for longer-term goals, we’ll find more satisfaction, appreciate our accomplishments, and live fuller, healthier lives.