The Power of Delayed Gratification

If you’re like most people these days, you don’t go more than a couple of hours without checking your phone for updates and notifications. This is a great example of instant gratification at play: you could have received a text, an email, an instant message, or a missed call. You could have some new likes or comments on a post you published. It’s addictive.

Even when you’re not checking for new notifications, do you catch yourself endlessly scrolling down the Facebook news feed, hoping to see something funny, interesting, or useful? I do this sometimes and with it comes the realisation that it’s time to put the phone away and do something useful.

It’s Addictive

Facebook is wired to keep you connected to it.

By default, you’re probably reading this within Facebook’s browser. There are so many links on Facebook that clicking on them can make you mobile browser app open up and you find yourself in the typical internet-searching context. Facebook doesn’t like that, so it functions as its own browser — the content from the link you clicked on still opens but there’s a format that reminds you you’re still in Facebook and an arrow to take you back to the news feed when you’re done.

You can change this, by the way. I did as soon Facebook made itself the default. In the Facebook app, go to Menu > App Settings. Tap to turn on the “Always open links with external browsers” option. In my opinion, Chrome is a better browser and I don’t like the manipulation by Facebook.

Also, the Facebook news feed is designed to keep you scrolling forever, with something interesting or funny popping up just occasionally enough that you don’t quite end up leaving. If you catch yourself doing this, ask yourself if there’s something better you could be spending your time on.

Instant Gratification

From Wikipedia, ‘instant gratification’ is often used to label the satisfactions gained by more impulsive behaviours: choosing now over tomorrow.

In the posts on the importance of goal setting and designing your ideal lifestyle it becomes obvious that to live the life you truly want to live, you need to focus on a time-horizon longer than ‘immediately’. A goal like achieving the ideal body could be successfully completed within 12 months or less. Achieving financial independence likely requires something more like 10 years.

But if you focus too much on getting something now for your efforts, you might never achieve the bigger, more important things in your life. You won’t go to the gym because it’s physically taxing, you won’t resist that slice of cake because that would deprive you of the sugar hit you would receive, and you won’t bother investing because you could spend that money now instead.

Delayed Gratification

Wikipedia describes ‘delayed gratification’ as the ability to resist the temptation for a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.

That is where the power of delayed gratification comes in.


Go to the ‘Investments’ section at the bottom of the post on the pros and cons of different money making methods and you will find an exercise that I set that shows how leaving $1,000 reinvested in an asset producing a 10% return each year results in that $1,000 turning into $16,000 in the 30th year.

If you can put $1,000 away now and not spend it, it is worth 16 times that amount if you wait 29 more years (17.5 for a full 30 extra years). Converting the money into time, let’s assume you’re 21 years old on $20/hr. That initial $1,000 investment is worth 50 hours. By the time you’re 50 years old, you might be earning $75 per hour, so that $16,000 is worth 210 hours of your time — by delaying your gratification, the value of your time has more than quadrupled!


Starting a business can be tough. Why put in 50-hour weeks (or more) whilst earning nothing or even losing money for, say, six months? You could spend that time working in a job with barely any risk, making $20/hr for a total of $26,000, right?

The answer lies in the following six months, where the business brings in an effective $20/hr, then the next six months where it brings in $40/hr, then the next six months when you can work part-time and still make more than you would have made in a job.

Without the hard work, time, and money at the beginning of the business’ life, you don’t get the big financial benefits later on. A focus that lies too much on immediate gratification will always lead you to a job where your time is traded for money. A focus on delayed gratification opens up the possibility of much earlier financial freedom.


The first four weeks of going to the gym to lose weight or gain muscle might not result in much progress. Each day is hard work, sapping your willpower, time, and your mental and physical strength. Monitoring your diet or changing it to be healthier can be mentally draining, too. If you only care about immediate gratification, your attempt at a healthier or more desirable body will result in you giving up and potentially placing your hopes on a dodgy weight-loss shake.

Delayed gratification acknowledges that hard work now will result in the desired outcome later.

Pick a Life Area

This concept applies to many areas of life. The first step is acknowledging that you’re able to achieve your goals faster by delaying your gratification, the next is weaning yourself off distractions like Facebook and Instagram that try to lock you into their instant gratification addiction, and the next is to start acting on the tasks that will bring about the life you desire.

Featured Image partly by Sarah_Ackerman [CC BY 2.0]

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