Delayed Gratification: What Your Brain Doesn’t Tell You

hard work

Important:┬áMy unspoken philosophy for this site is to provide value to people by creating articles that I’m aiming to make better than what you usually see around.

This is why I recommend you to head on to Emanueles “Massive Guide to Delayed Gratification“. I honestly think it’s more valuable to you than my article below.


The world is filled with everything that’s designed to bring us instant gratification:

Games, tv-shows, movies, porn, shopping, you name it.

Everything is accessible instantly through the web and in most cases we don’t have to do anything for them.

Today people are getting more and more while giving less and less in return.

From logical point of view, this is pretty much like living a dream.

Unfortunately, human beings are far from logical.

Anyone who has immersed themselves in instant gratification without any kind of balance can most likely testify that it isn’t what they would consider ideal life.

This is because the continuous usage of instant gratification makes our brains desensitized to the pleasure generated.

The perfect analogy can be found from excessive drug usage: when the body becomes more tolerant of the drug used, a bigger dose is needed to get a high as good as last week.

The unpleasant answer to battling this problem is delayed gratification.

The science

This article about the science of delayed gratification raises a few interesting points.

A study presented showed that instant gratification and delayed gratification activate different parts of brain.

  • Instant gratification activated the brains reward system – the part responsible for emotional decisions
  • Delayed gratification activated the pre-frontal cortex – the part responsible for rational decisions

The conclusion of the study is that the emotional part of a brain overrides the rational part of the brain.

This is why it’s so hard for people to make long-term decision at the cost of short-term pleasure.

An interesting experiment known as the “marshmellow experiment” was conducted around this subject:

They gave 4 year old kids a choice: they either get one marshmellow now or two marshmellows after waiting for a while.

Most of the kids chose to get one marshmellow now instead of two later.

The kids were then followed for years, how they did in school and how they fared in life.

Long story short, the kids who chose to wait for two marshmellows ended up doing really well in life when compared to the impatient kids.

A conscious decision

If you don’t have enough activity that brings delayed gratification in your life, you have to simulate it by yourself.

This is the hard part because you are actually wired to do the opposite: to spend as little energy as possible.

You have to step out of the autopilot and make a conscious decision to change your daily habits.

What helped me

“Recent studies have shown heightened activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, frontal cortex, and prefrontal cortex, specifically in the dorsal medial prefrontal area during Vipassana meditation.” source

In other words, meditation stimulates the same part of the brain as what is required to make delayed gratification decisions.

I recently rediscovered meditation and being more in the present moment in my life and from my own experience, I can verify that my productivity has sky-rocketed.

Change isn’t impossible

I’ve been a “instant gratification kid” before, but I can hardly consider myself one today.

There may have been many different factors, but one of those was getting interested in investing in early age.

When you consider that most people would take $50 now instead of having $100 in one month, my train of thought is considerably different.

I would kill to get a sure 100% return on capital in one month.

Hell, finding a great company with good management that returns 20% a year would like winning a lottery from my point of view.

This kind of framework isn’t genetic, but something that has been cultivated over the years.

When it comes to money, this kind of framework gives me feeling of instant gratification from delayed gratification simply because I take pleasure in owning great companies that I know well enough.

The pleasure comes now, but the money will come later.

The beautiful thing is that the money isn’t even that important when compared to the pleasure of the whole process.

Here’s how the good life works

The more you put in, the more you get.

But what you get isn’t necessarily more money or relationships, but simply the feeling of having yourself put in the effort.

Hard work really pays off, sometimes in material, but most of all in spiritual value. This is something that’s underestimated by most people.

They see the effort, they see the gratification, but they don’t realize that in the long-term there isn’t one without the other.

They want to get out of the loop and live life with ease, not knowing it possibly couldn’t keep them happy for long.

Brace yourself: it’s hard

Through delayed gratification life will become considerably more tougher, but it will become considerably better too.

There’s no such thing as free lunch.

You’ll need this mindset where you appreciate the effort that you put in instead of always waiting for that treasure at the end of the rainbow.

It’s all about sustainability

When you are indulging yourself in really good entertainment, you may feel excitement, intrigue, all those good feelings.

While watching something really good, you might describe yourself momentarily as happy because of that.

But the point is, it’s not sustainable.

Delayed gratification rewards those who are willing to sacrifice momentary good feeling with long-term good feeling.

It isn’t the holy grail

Not succumbing to your short-term desires will solve many of your concerns about sustainable feel good, but it isn’t the holy grail.

There is more to ones lifestyle than working hard and reaping the benefits later.

Then there’s the “When I get x, I’ll be happy” illusion – this is not delayed gratification.

This is deluding yourself by expecting that you can find happiness through some future event.

In that case the problem is deeper in ones values and beliefs.

Bottom line

In my experience the best way to get out of the instant gratification loop is to realize that it isn’t getting you anywhere.

It will feel incredibly hard thing to do, especially when you have the lowest amount of momentum.

It will, however, be one of the best things that you do.