I want to succeed. Nearly everyone I’ve come across wants to succeed in whatever they are doing – even those I consider already successful. Probably because success is not a single event, it is a lifestyle. In my continuous search for a lifestyle of success, I learnt that it is not something that just happens to you. To be successful, I needed to hone my success ability. There are many things I term ‘success muscles’, and one that I’ve found to be really important is Delayed Gratification.
The Marshmallow Experiment
In the 1960, a researcher carried out an experiment which was known as The Marshmallow Experiment. That researcher was the psychologist, Walter Mischel.
The focus of the research was to find out when delayed gratification developed in children. The experiment began by bringing a child into a room, sitting them down and then placing a marshmallow on a table in front of the child. Then the researcher then offered each child a deal.
They were told that the researcher would leave the room. If the child did not eat the marshmallow by the time he came back, the child would get an extra marshmallow. However if the child could not wait and ate the marshmallow, he or she would not get the second one.
It was a clear deal: eat one now or get two later.
The researcher left the room. Some children went straight for the marshmallow as soon as he left the room. Others tried to resist, but later gave in. But some children waited till he returned and they got the second marshmallow.
What does this have to do with your success ability
The real significance of the marshmallow experiment was discovered as researchers conducted follow up studies on each child. They found out that the children who were able to delay gratification were more successful than the others who ate their marshmallows. This was discovered through SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, better social skills, lower likelihood of obesity and other indicator of success.
Why delayed gratification is so important to a lifestyle of success
At first glance, it does not look like delayed gratification has much to do with your success ability. But as I thought deeper about it, I realized that it is an integral part to success.
A dictionary of sociology defines delayed gratification as:
“…principle which encourages individuals and groups to postpone immediate consumption or pleasure in order to work, train, invest, or gain in some other way an enhanced return at a future date. Deferred gratification is an essential principle behind capital accumulation…”
I highlighted a few keywords for extra emphasis. I think the problem with a lot of us is that we find it really difficult to postpone immediate consumption. I understand why though. When you come from a place where postponing consumption means that you might lose out forever on that thing, it is hard to do so even when you know there is ‘an enhanced return at a future date.’
Yet, delayed gratification impacts on almost every aspect of our lives. If you want to live a healthy life, you need to be able to delay the pleasure you get from sleeping for the enhanced gain which exercising will bring. In business and practically every area of your life, you will be faced with these choices. They will always impact on your lifestyle.
So what do you do if you do not know how to delay gratification?
You can train yourself to wait. It is not going to be easy, but you can do it. For many of us, this is counter intuitive. The African lifestyle is such that we do not really have a lot of disposable income. It is difficult to save when you have so many responsibilities, so when you have a little extra, you use it to enjoy yourself. It is perfectly understandable.
However if you are serious about achieving your goals and living a successful lifestyle, you need to learn how to delay gratification. It is the best way to increase your success ability. Here are a few tips to help you get there:
Take baby steps: Don’t rush into this. If you are not used to waiting for what you want, then start small. Decide not to eat that chocolate bar. Choose to sleep 30 minutes earlier or get up 30 minutes earlier. Do something small to train your muscles and make it really easy.
Do it again the next day: Once you have decided on the one thing that you are going to do, do it again the next day. This is how habits are formed. Keep doing that one thing each day and later, you can add one more thing. You will gradually increase your success ability.
Visualize your goal: You know the lifestyle you want. I want a life where I can provide for my children, take regular vacations and impact on the lives around me. I want to have the resources to make a difference in my community. My values are clearly spelt out for me. What are your values? These will guide what your ideal lifestyle should look like. If you can see in your mind’s eye, the kind of life you want to life, it will be easier for you to make sacrifices in order to achieve that.
Truthfully, if you are not willing to learn how to delay gratification, there will always be a limit on your success.