“IF YOU FINISH YOUR HOMEWORK, YOU CAN go out to play” is something that you hear often in every home with children except that, nowadays, “playing” has probably been replaced by “watching TV.” Although this is essentially an effort-reward equation at play, in real terms it is a commonplace illustration of delayed gratification.
OUR ACTIVITIES ARE OFTEN DESIGNED with the expectation of rewards or remuneration quite simply because there is no free lunch in life. However it is entirely possible to bring in phenomenal changes in our own personal lives by adopting the practice of delayed gratification. There are no external agents or donors involved except ourselves. We have nothing to prove to the outside world – we only have to be true to ourselves. We simply reward ourselves on completion of a task that we had set out to do; not earlier ! The trick is to postpone an indulgence that we fancy after we have done something that is useful or essential – for ourselves, of course. It could become more structured if we plan a rewards system for ourselves when we knock off each item from our To Do Lists.
I HAVE MY OWN REWARDS SYSTEM DEVISED SOLELY FOR myself and I would keep adding my indulgences to the list (which are indeed many) and link them to the tasks, however mundane that remain to be done – say, viewing a film after old papers have been cleared, filed or shredded; a stroll out in a shopping mall (leaving cash and credit cards behind!) after I have read at least 100 pages of a book that I have begun to read; a steaming cup of Nescafe with sugar-free French Vanilla Splenda thrown in after I have had a brisk walk for an hour in the morning but also after have written a blog and posted it; inviting friends for dinner after the house has been tidied up…so on and so forth. Every person will doubtless have his or her own schema of delayed gratification, of course !
SINCE WHAT IS SOUGHT TO BE POSTPONED is something that we feel impulsive about, the temptation to say “Let me do it next time round, not now” is pretty strong particularly when we have only recently adopted this practice. I must say that the practice hardens one’s resolve, makes us more disciplined and brings in sharp focus to all that we do. It has other spin off benefits too – automatically our time management skills improve and we become relatively stress free.
REACTING IMPULSIVELY WAS A DEFINING TRAIT in my character (it still is, but to a lesser extent,I would say now) and with my recent adoption of the practice of delayed gratification, I do feel more healthier and positive. I recently stumbled on the details of the Marshmallow Experiment conducted by Walter Mischel and Ebbe Ebbeson at the Bing Nursery School at Stanford University in 1960 with follow up studies in 1988 and later years on the same subject samples*, where the conclusion was that “children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes.” The experiment had its flaws but I do feel vindicated although I started this experiment pretty late in life and I feel emboldened to recommend the practice of delayed gratification strongly to my readership, free of charge !