Chances are, if you’ve taken any kind of psychology class, you’ve heard of the marshmallow test. This seemingly simple experiment, originally conducted by researchers in the 60s, involves placing a marshmallow in front of a child and giving them the option to eat that single marshmallow immediately or to wait to eat it and, in return, receive a second marshmallow.
The results are usually fairly comical, but they also reveal an interesting aspect of human nature. We don’t like to wait for things.
Sometimes, it feels torturous having our patience tested. Whether it’s a marshmallow sitting in front of us begging to be eaten or a video that just won’t buffer, we lose our patience when we aren’t granted the instant gratification we desire.
The millennial generation especially struggles with this, because we have grown up in a world filled with technology that caters to and sustains that desire. From high speed internet on our computers to unlimited data plans on our cell phones, technological advances have lessened our need for patience, and therefore, decreased our ability to withstand waiting.
We expect immediacy, because we are used to it.
Knowing this, it is important to consider the implications of such a culture. While it can be difficult to let go of a practice that our society encourages — even conditions — us to accept, there is value to confronting how this affects us.
Instant gratification in our daily lives
The tendency toward instant gratification doesn’t always come from a place of ignorant greed or selfishness. In fact, it most often appears in the most mundane moments of our day, from grocery shopping to internet surfing. We seek it out and are granted it, without even realizing it. Therefore, when we are denied immediate results, we see it as an inconvenience.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of responding with anger and a feeling of being cheated when we are forced to wait. It can be as simple as rolling our eyes when a line isn’t moving fast enough or sighing impatiently and slamming our laptop shut when a webpage won’t load. It’s as if we revert back to our toddler tantrum days, only now we’re throwing phones instead of toys.
We have come to expect things a certain way, and because of this, it can be difficult to fight off the waves of disappointment and frustration that come when we face obstacles. In this way, the need for instant gratification infiltrates our daily behavior and shapes our decision-making — and not always for the best.
The benefits of delayed gratification
Resisting instant gratification isn’t about denying ourselves pleasure. Instead, it has to do with managing our desires. It is about self-control and readdressing our priorities.
Sometimes, the solution involves little more than taking a few deep breaths, like when we’re waiting in an extra-slow drive-thru line for our morning coffee. Other times, confronting instant gratification requires challenging ourselves to resist harmful habits, such as the tendency to pick up our phones every spare moment of the day to scroll through social media.
By practicing patience in these ways, we allow ourselves the opportunity to access the advantages of delayed gratification instead.
In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Ilene Strauss Cohen shares that “people who learn how to manage their need to be satisfied in the moment thrive more in their careers, relationships, health, and finances than people who give in to it.”
Delayed gratification improves our ability to practice self-control, and therefore, increases our chances of success with long-term goals.
When we expand our focus beyond the current moment, we create an opportunity to build our future selves. We take into consideration how the now affects the later, and we can use that knowledge to shape our decisions, rather than let our desire for immediate satisfaction blind us.
We are accustomed to crave both immediacy and ease, because in our society, technology has allowed the two to coexist as a norm. Because of this, it can be hard to shift our focus to the long-term, but what we gain from it can be more beneficial than what we lose from resisting the temptation of instant pleasure.
And who knows? We may find that the second marshmallow is worth the wait.