Wait For It…

Sad BulldogWe talked last time about the marshmallow experiment where children were tested for their ability to delay gratification. As you may remember, children who were able to wait a few minutes in order to receive a greater reward, also had higher social skills, higher emotional skills, were more self-confident, had higher IQ’s, and higher scores on the SAT test.

We also mentioned last time that greater success in relationships, business, and leadership is associated with the proper mix of time orientation. That mix seems to be a positive view of the past (without concentrating on past events), a focus on the present, with a moderately high focus on the future.

Today we will apply these insights and talk about how to better delay gratification and live in a better time orientation mix.

Delaying Gratification

As with most things, the ability to delay gratification is somewhat inside and outside our control. Two studies point to the fact that our personality and social setting can make it harder for us to wait for a reward. One study* found that extroverts have a harder time with delayed gratification and another study** found that nearly all people are less likely to wait for a reward in a negative social setting. That is, it is harder to wait for a reward if the person giving the reward is not considered trustworthy.

But, even if you are an extrovert and are in a poor social setting, there are some things you can do to improve your ability to delay gratification.

Three of the most important things you can do are:

1. Know what you want to do. Think of things that are important to you and may be difficult to achieve, then set a goal to reach that objective.

2. Make a plan. Figure out the best way reach that goal and write it down. The “writing it down” part is much more important than you might think.

3. Make decisions in advance. Before you get into a situation where you might want to trade something smaller now for something better in the future, make your decision ahead of time.

Here’s an example. I remember in the months before my wife and I got married, we wanted to make a downpayment on a home (#1—what we wanted to do—our goal). We figured out how much we would need and how much we needed to save each week in order to have enough (#2—our plan). Unfortunately, we had nothing to spare in our budget. We determined ahead of time to save what we needed for the downpayment each week no matter what (#3—made a decision in advance). I remember many times when I wanted to buy a candy bar on the way home from work or we wanted to go out to eat, but those things weren’t in our budget. We delayed many short-term goals in order to achieve what we really wanted—the downpayment on the house we would live in our first few years of marriage.

Achieving the Best Time Orientation Mix

Remember that the best mix of time orientation is positive view of the past without concentrating on it, with a focus on the present and a moderately high focus on the future. How can we do that better?

To keep this short, I’ll just list bullet points here.

To lessen an emphasis on the negative past:
Don’t blame yourself
Decide that it is in the past and done, and remind yourself of that when you start to think about the past

To live more in the present (if you think too much about the future):
Do less, not more
Waste time on purpose
Be spontaneous sometimes
Take time enjoy eating, drinking your coffee or tea, listening to music, or reading a good book
Play with children

To be more future oriented:
Wear a watch
Make a habit of delaying gratification
Make a to-do list
Make appointments and stick to them

So, wait for your marshmallows and enjoy the journey!

*Society for Personality and Social Psychology (2013, January 17). Understanding personality for decision-making, longevity, and mental health.

**Laura Michaelson, Alejandro de la Vega, Christopher H. Chatham, Yuko Munakata. Delaying gratification depends on social trust. Frontiers in Psychology, 2013; 4 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00355

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