There are usually two paths we can take in any given situation. The path of avoiding pain in the moment, or the more difficult path of delaying pleasure for a greater purpose and outcome.

Current cultural norms seemingly encourage us to seek band-aid solutions and temporary comforts. Basically whatever it takes to ease our immediate discomfort. This way of thinking was first postulated in the late 19th century when Freud developed the pleasure principle; the instinctual seeking of pleasure and avoidance of pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs. While we need some pleasures like food, water, and sleep in order to survive, as we get older and mature, we must learn to tolerate the discomfort of delayed gratification if we have a greater purpose or goal in mind.

Children innately seek immediate gratification, aiming to satisfy cravings such as hunger and thirst, and seeking whatever they want in the moment to ease their discomfort. Adults though are characterised by an ability to delay gratification and tolerate hard work, discipline, and occasional unpleasantness in order to fulfil responsibilities and achieve goals. While not always utilised, this can yield tremendous returns while helping develop a tolerance for waiting.

The classic Stanford marshmallow experiment showed that children who were able to wait fifteen minutes for the second marshmallow without eating the first one scored higher on standardized tests, had better health, and were less likely to have behaviour problems. Studies show 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. Over time, delaying gratification will improve your self-control and ultimately help you achieve your long-term goals faster.

We are at the stage of the school year where we are needing to remind ourselves and our students, the need for delayed gratification. There is the impending holiday break coming. Christmas is in shop windows already. The desire for relaxation and rest is strong. Yet there are just under two weeks left of work to still be done. School and class attendance to maintain, exams to study for, assignments to complete, deadlines to be met, reports to be written and commitments to be fulfilled. There remains some immediate ‘pain’ and delaying of the gratification that is not too far away. Which path will you take?