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Sometime back when I was in Bengaluru, I was told that grocery and food delivery services are running a program for ten-minute delivery. How exciting! Place an order from your mobile and within ten minutes you will have this delivered to your doorstep.

I was thinking why anybody would have thought of making deliveries so fast. Services are always driven by requirements. So, why in the world majority of people want to have everything in no time?


The answer lies in a series of experiments conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel at Stanford University. The experiment is known as the Marshmallow Experiment. Marshmallow is some type of sweet candy that is liked by children. These experiments were conducted by Mischel and his research team on hundreds of children between the age of 4 and 5. Each student was seated in a separate room and was given a marshmallow. The researcher made a deal with the child. The deal was that the researcher will leave the room after giving one marshmallow and come back after some time. If the child does not eat the marshmallow till that time, he will be rewarded with one more. But if the child finishes the first one by the time the researcher comes back, then he will not get any more.

The researcher then left the room for 15 minutes. What happened in these 15 minutes was quite interesting. Some of the children could not resist the temptation and ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher left the room. A few others tried their best to restrict themselves for some time but could not wait long enough and finished the marshmallow before the researcher returned. Only a few of them could maintain their patience and wait till the researcher returned.

The experiment did not finish at that time. It continued for the next 40 years. Researchers followed these children for more than 40 years. It was observed that those who could wait patiently for the second marshmallow were successful in all walks of life compared to the rest of the others. They were happy, healthy, had better social skills, responding in a better way to stressful situations.  Also, they scored better in several different life measures.


This experiment concluded that delayed gratification helps a person to become successful, but raised another question. Is this characteristic built-in in a child from birth or it can be developed at any stage of life?

Researchers at the University of Rochester conducted some follow-up studies. They formed two groups.

  1. A group with unreliable outcomes.

This group was subjected to a series of unreliable experiences. For example, the children were given a small box of crayons and a promise was made to give them a bigger one later. But, the bigger one was never given to them. Similarly, they were given a small sticker and were promised to get them a better set of stickers but this again was never given to them.

  1. A group with reliable outcomes.

This group was also promised a bigger set of crayons and stickers etc. And the promise was really kept.

After this, the marshmallow experiment was held. The first group with unreliable outcomes had no reason to believe that the second marshmallow will really be given. As such they did not wait for the second one and finished the first one without waiting for long. The second group was by now trained to expect positive results by practicing delayed gratification. As such they could wait for longer durations to ensure that they receive the reward.

The researchers of this study concluded that delayed gratification is not a characteristic that is obtained by a child at birth. It is a result of one’s life experiences and environment and can be developed instantaneously.

However, there is one important point that needs to be mentioned. Human behavior is quite complex. And, success in life is a combined result of several efforts and not just one. But one thing is certain. On the way to success, there is a need to practice delayed gratification. One has to be disciplined by avoiding immediate pleasure.


Let us see how we can practice delayed gratification in our own life, even if we are not good at this at present:

  1. Small improvements on a daily basis can lead to compounding and result in extraordinary results in the long term. So, start with a small action.

For example, wake up 15 to 30 minutes early and do some fitness activities. Soon you will see positive results on your energy level. Delaying the gratification of reducing your sleep will result in a healthy life.

Similarly, if you delay the gratification of eating junk food during your working hours for a few days, you will start feeling healthier.

  1. I love listening to music. But when I was working on one of my important goals, I stopped playing music, save that time, and used it for my goal. Immediately I started seeing positive results towards my goal. Small achievements were noticed every week. That encouraged me to pursue that new habit. Ultimately, after some time I achieved my goal and then, I had enough time to enjoy my music love.

Similarly, in case you have some such habit that is not important for your goals viz. reading newspapers, playing some games, watching television, and being busy with social media; just reduce your time on that habit and use it for your bigger goals. Small positive results you obtain in that way will encourage you automatically to practice delayed gratification.

  1. Personal Finance: Most often it has been observed that when a person gets a job after completing studies, he is willing to possess everything immediately viz. a fridge, a vehicle (better version than the current one), a home, and everything that he may think is required for decorating the home. Since all that is not possible with a salary, he goes for a bank loan which has become so easy to get in today’s world. But bank debt means you are buying everything at a much higher cost, and still, you go for it because it gives you instant gratification. Repaying the EMIs often becomes problematic.

In order to practice delayed gratification, learn to save and invest money. It does not matter how small it is. Don’t spend money that is not yours. First, earn money and then spend it. This way, you may delay buying your fridge a little late, maybe 6 months or a year. But you will not have to pay unnecessary interest. In fact, you will earn a profit on your saved or invested money and will be able to raise your liquid assets.

In case you are going for a loan, first ensure that you increase your income by the amount of EMI plus the interest on the loan, and then only go for this.

I recall the case of Robert Kiyosaki, the famous author on personal finances. He had a car showroom near his house and once he saw a newly introduced Porsche car at that showroom. The cost of the car was about 1.80 crore Indian Rupees. When he expressed his desire to his wife, Kim, she asked him to build assets first, which can pay for his EMIs. Remember, the couple had enough money to pay for that car. But this is an example of delayed gratification that they practiced.


Friends! Next time when you are willing to go for enjoying something big, just wait for a moment and think: Can you delay your celebration for some time and make efforts today to achieve bigger rewards in the future?

Dr. Lokesh N Rai


7 Responses

  1. A lovely narrative with a deep message. What i conclude from this is simple, according to me will power is not an inborn trait and it needs to be developed and that’s what a delayed gratification can aid in developing. Overall this is a wonderful article which can be used as a tool to bring an improvement in our life. Thank you sir for sharing this jew with us. 🙏🏼

  2. A very powerful write up …,with how we can practice delayed gratification in our daily lives
    Insightful and well written 🙏👍👍

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