Where Are You On The Deferred Gratification Continuum?
First off, what is deferred gratification? Deferred Gratification describes the process that a person undergoes when they resist the temptation of an immediate reward in preference for a later reward or payout.
I first learned about Deferred Gratification in Junior High School health class. Not that I totally understood it at the time, but it did register with me as a concept of life. It made sense to me in terms of sports. As a team sport athlete, I experienced Deferred Gratification, as “practice makes perfect”. If you devoted the time and the work in soccer or baseball practice, the payout would be gaining the skills and the muscle memory to be able to perform on the field during the competition of game day.
How does Deferred Gratification pertain to life in general – particularly in terms of life and career goals? Similar to the sports analogy, are you able to defer your feelings of gratification to do the step-by-step work of preparing for your goals? Setting overarching goals is important to lead a purposeful life. But too often it’s not enough. Many times, it’s the small steps of action that will lead to eventually achieving your big goals. Breaking your overarching goals into bite-size steps of action will help you attain those large goals.
According to an article in Psychology Today, “Choosing to have something now might feel good, but making the effort to have discipline and manage your impulses can result in bigger or better rewards in the future. Over time, delaying gratification will improve your self-control and ultimately help you achieve your long-term goals faster”.
Is Deferred Gratification an innate quality, or can it be learned? This question actually reminds me of a good topic for a future blog post, the concept of Nature vs. Nurture. It is a fascinating concept and I promise to write about that topic soon. For now, let’s continue to focus on Deferred Gratification.
I find I’ve learned so much about life and people from observing my two sons. And Deferred Gratification is one of those concepts that I’ve learned a great deal about from watching sons Isaac and Gabriel grow up.
Our older son, Isaac, was a strong-willed and spirited child from the very get-go. In fact my wife and life partner, Lois – who is a Speech Pathologist and expert in child development – told me when Isaac was an infant that our goal should be to not break his spirit. And that’s what we kept in mind raising Isaac. We felt his spirit would serve him well. This spirited child was always centered in the moment. He knew what he wanted and went for it for immediate gratification. In all aspects of his young life he went for what he wanted spontaneously for immediate reward. This proved true as he grew up, and sports again serves as an excellent way to bring the point to life. Isaac was a very good athlete. He was a game player, not a practice kid. In basketball, he would create moves and passes on the fly that were quite amazing. Could he have been even a better athlete if he practiced harder? Sure. But Isaac’s flair and spontaneity served him and his teams well.
Our second son Gabriel was a different kind of child. From the very beginning of his life, Gabriel displayed a patience and ability to focus and play for hours with his action figures. He created games and fantasies through his focused play. He, too, was a wonderful athlete, very competitive from early on probably from trying so hard to keep up with his older brother. Gabriel loved practice. I have a fond memory of hearing the “thump, thump, thump” of Gabriel practicing on our driveway for hours on end with a gizmo called a jump sole. It was a contraption he stepped into and held on to rubber band straps attached to the foot blocks. And for hours and hours Gabriel would practice jumping, jumping, jumping in the driveway. The jump soles were designed to increase his jumping ability, which is very important in basketball. This endless practice was the epitome of Deferred Gratification that came so naturally to Gabriel. He also was a “coaches delight” in that he understood the game so well he knew the “x’s and o’s” – meaning he not only knew where he was supposed to be on the court at all times, but he also knew where each of his teammates should be at all times, too. He played like an extension of the coach on the court.
So it’s my experience and observation that a trait like Deferred Gratification does certainly have an innate quality to it. But can it also be a learned, acquired skill? Yes it can.
According to Dr. Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D., “being able to delay satisfaction isn’t the easiest skill to acquire. It involves feeling dissatisfied, which is why it seems impossible for people who haven’t learned to control their impulses. Choosing to have something now might feel good, but making the effort to have discipline and manage your impulses can result in bigger or better rewards in the future. Over time, delaying gratification will improve your self-control and ultimately help you achieve your long-term goals faster”.
Like most things in life and life coaching, balance is helpful. Let’s look at Isaac and Gabriel again. Isaac has learned over time, mostly through trial and error, to find a balance between his immediate, spontaneous gratification nature with learned deferred gratification. He has pursued his passion of a music management career – a demanding and challenging field. He has learned to work hard over time toward his creative and management goals. Even though he is still spontaneous and free-spirited, he has learned to stay the course with discipline to work toward his big, overarching goals. He is finding the balance that works for him between immediate and deferred gratification.
Gabriel continues to learn to counter his tendency for meticulous planning and delayed gratification with also going with his gut and learning to be more spontaneous. He has developed a consulting business helping better-for-you beverage brand clients grow their businesses in the Midwest. Gabriel’s planning skills help his brands strategically set goals and work step-by-step toward achieving those goals. He has also learned how to read prospective buyers and make spontaneous decisions to adapt to meet their unique needs. So he, too, has learned to find a balance in order to be successful.
It’s so important to find your own balance on the Deferred Gratification continuum. If your tendency is to be analytical, careful, and good at deferring gratification to focus on the steps toward achieving goals…you may want to practice spontaneity, too. Conversely, if you tend to go for the immediate spontaneous desire…it can be powerful to practice planning the steps to go through to insure even bigger successes.
Balance can be practiced and attained by working with a life coach. Finding your balance can help you live your life purpose more successfully and fully.