You may have heard about the Stanford Marshmallow Study.
The study was done in the ’60s and ’70s to see how delayed gratification played in children and their potential to be successful in the future.
After 40 years, the study looked at the kids and found that those who were able to resist the temptation of a marshmallow or similar treat were more likely to succeed in the future.
It was an interesting study. The kids were given the option of eating one treat right away or to get possibly two treats in 15 minutes if they didn’t eat the first treat right away. You can imagine that was difficult for the kids. I know it would be difficult. I love marshmallows.
But this idea of Delayed Gratification makes sense and you’ve probably experienced it.
Delayed Gratification In Life
When I was a kid, probably around 12 or 13 years old my parents would go to work. If it was summer my brother and I wouldn’t have school so we were left at home on our own.
That can be a difficult place for a kids. Go fishing all day. Play videos games. Practice golfing in the front yard. All those would be gratifying, but our mom always gave us each a list of chores.
My plan was always to get the work done first. That way I could enjoy the rest of the day with gratification. For me, the gratification was greater when my mind was clear of having to do chores.
And you also see this happen in lots of other areas.
Finances, you could spend the money you earn today or you could invest it in something that will result in more money in the future. That’s an obvious one.
You could buy a car today with the money you have or you could wait and save a bit more and get a better car in a few years.
You could eat that cake today or you could wait and let the temptation pass and have more gratification by feeling healthy and well in the future. (you thought I was going to say you get two cakes in the future, didn’t you?)
Delayed Gratification In Business
In my experience, the business leaders I’ve worked with just about always had excellent skills when it came to delayed gratification. They had a keen ability to look at what would be better in the future. Very rarely didn’t they look at the right now.
Sure, they had tasks they had to get done now and they would sometimes do things spur of the moment, but more often than not they delayed gratification for greater rewards later.
Here are some examples:
You’re a startup business and you get a potentially huge new client. You could accept now, but if you can’t figure out how to handle the scale and growth you could be in trouble. You could turn them down for smaller growth today, but with better and even more growth potential in the future giving yourself time to handle greater volume.
You are experiencing some good growth and you are excited about a new office. You could move on it right away or you could make it work with what you have now, save money and be in a better position for a big investment in the future.
You could offer discounts now to get a bigger rush of customers or you could hold steady on your prices and take more time to bring in customers that don’t require discounts to buy your services.
There are many examples.
Delayed gratification is usually good in life and in business.
One caveat seems to be that if you are being offered something by someone that you need to trust them. You need to trust that you will get the bigger reward in the future. If not, it would make sense to take the short-term reward.
In business, though, I would say that the big lesson is to think about the big picture. It’s not always about what is good today. It’s about what is good for your business in the long-term.
It’s an easy concept to understand. Most of us know it. But it’s hard to put into practice.
I have a little trick. If I ever feel pressure to do something I add it to my calendar to come back to it. Usually by the time that “task” comes I’ve had time to let the initial emotion subside and I can make a good decision.
And it seems that if you can have a clear vision for the future that you’re more likely to delay gratification as well.