Learn to Play with Delayed Gratification

They say patience is a virtue. Perhaps it’s a skill to be mastered or an unexpected playground, often avoided. Either way, patience through the lens of delayed gratification is a seldom explored avenue to experience life’s pleasures. Instead, instant gratification is the currency du jour. 

Opening an Amazon box, or even the impulse to make the online purchase itself, is riddled with consequences we ignore in pursuit of this mini-rush of excitement. We pick up something at a store without thinking, accept items a friend is giving away, or grab a swag bag of free goodies. Instant gratification comes in many colors and shades, contributing to the overwhelm of too much stuff and disjointed priorities. 

I’ve heard repeatedly that I should create an Instagram account of before and after photos for my business. While proven business advice, it promotes the sort of instant gratification that brought about the situations clients now want fixed (as represented by these photos). When viewing a photo of an overwhelmingly cluttered space, a rush of pleasure quickly follows when seeing the problem immediately “fixed.” Both the quick fix and the peace of the finished scene alone are so enticing. But where did the items go? What was the experience and process? It’s the rush of instant gratification, without the work, that’s being sought; no learning or growing.

With clients, I develop a short priority list of how to begin our work together. Typically one item is the task that can be completed easily. The other is more complicated in nature. With the latter, and if open to the mental processing and potentially emotional work required, they would learn some of the mindset changes and strategies that will be beneficial throughout our work. While clients surprise me by occasionally picking the more challenging task, most look for instant gratification. While I use it as a way to promote confidence, I also identify delayed gratification as a skill that needs honing.

Delayed gratification supports the idea that feeling gratified is not as important as we think. It’s the proverbial journey versus the destination. It’s quality over quantity. As a former project director, I focused on major multi-year and multi-part projects. It required a full visualization of a somewhat malleable end product. It required patience and a certain amount of faith. The payoff was big and deeply satisfying. I love delayed gratification. I get all of the learning along the way and the gratification is more textured and enriching that expected. The satisfaction is fully earned.

It’s an appreciation of delayed gratification that allows one to persist through the difficult times in a variety of relationships. The excitement of newness dissipates into deeper connection. We develop trust and love over time. In Amazon terms, it allows us to be frugal in the face of clicking an item into a virtual cart. Perhaps, instead, we save up over a longer period for an item that will be more special and impactful in our lives. And we get to celebrate our resolve to earn something we really want.

Consider how instant and delayed gratification play out in all elements of life. Develop an acute awareness of this dichotomy, because delayed gratification is not simply the antidote to instant gratification, it is the foundation for a meaningful life.