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Be Successful by Learning Delayed Gratification

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What if I told you that delayed gratification was the most important factors of success?

I bet you’d probably believe that it was plausible, but probably not likely. There’s probably something else in the mix right?

Well, while that may be true, Joachim de Posada, in this six minute TED talk, explains how delayed gratification was a good predictor of future success.

If you can’t watch the video or just want a textual recap of the Stanford study, here it is. They asked some four year old kids to stay in a room with a marshmallow for fifteen minutes. If they hadn’t eaten the marshmallow after fifteen minutes, they would get another one. So they would get two in total. Two thirds of the students ate the marshmallow and only a third lasted fifteen minutes. They followed up fourteen to fifteen years later and learned that ALL of the children who were able to delay gratification were pretty successful. They had good grades, good prospects, good relationships with their teachers. The rest of them were not – bad grades, dropped out, but only a few had good grades. (Here’s a discussion of the study in greater detail)

Interesting stuff.

He’s also the author of “How to Survive Among the Piranhas” and “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow … Yet.”

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18 Responses to “Be Successful by Learning Delayed Gratification”

  1. Chuck says:

    Here’s a modern version, which seems less for science and more for making a fun video:

    http://vimeo.com/4119021

  2. Agreed it is an interesting experiment and there seems to be some correlation but it I would not buy the conclusion based on this argument. I see value in delayed gratification there are many other factors that could be playing a role here, the sample was small, some kids may not be liking marshmallow as much, etc..

  3. MoneyNing says:

    Another interesting question is: what if two marshmallow were never perceived to be more valuable than one? In this case, why should he/she wait?

    What if (in the kid’s minds) that good grades weren’t worth the effort?

    Btw, Chuck’s video is awesome :)

  4. Interesting, esp considering the sample size of 600+ people (according to a commenter in the article you linked to). If that sample size is correct, that would be pretty impressive.

    I could wait 15 minutes for a regular marshmallow, but not for a toasted one – mm :)

  5. Damon Day says:

    Delayed gratification is the great equalizer for building wealth. Practically anyone can save their way to wealth, but most people either don’t have or don’t employ the skills needed to earn a million by trading their time for money.

    If Parents and the education system would have just taught this one principle to our children 40 years ago, we would not have this medicare and SS bomb that we are having right now. We could have less people dependent on the Government for their retirement.

    Even if you are like most of us and partied away your 20′s and 30′s. If at 40 you started investing 1,000 dollars a month into your company 401k at 8% interest you would have over a million in your account at age 67.

    Before you have a coronary about where are you going to get 1,000 a month, well, read all of the tips on this blog. Many of you reading this probably spend over 1,000 a month on debt payments. Plus your company probably offers a match up to 6% of your income and you will be investing with pretax dollars.

    So if your company matches 300 bucks, that means you only have to earn $700 pretax dollars to invest $1,000 a month. $700 pretax dollars is likely around $490 after tax dollars. So instead of spending $490 on credit card payments, you can invest $1,000 into your 401k and not know the difference in your budget.

    The bottom line is if you can delay a certain amount of gratification now, anyone with a job can quite literally become a millionaire with a few minor adjustments on how they spend their money.

  6. MLR says:

    I forget where I saw this quote, so apologize I can’t cite it:

    “Wealth is in restraint, not indulgence.”

    Pretty much sums this up!

    • Shirley says:

      MLR, I think you hit the nail on the head with this quote!

      We truly value what we earn much more than what we are just given. (The children in the video earned by waiting.) With earning comes ‘ownership’ and with ownership comes pride.

      Pride in whatever we do equals success.

  7. rajeev Singh says:

    Very nice article.. Thanks for sahring this info.

  8. In the months and years leading up to the Recession we had an average household credit card debt of over $9,000, and a savings rate of -0.5%.

    As a culture, we learned that we could be instantly gratified with delayed consequences. A dangerous formula.

    We were kids with unhindered access to a mountain of marshmallows and we made ourselves sick.

  9. It’s sad that we need a university study to prove what previous generations knew inherently.

    Our unique period of perpetual prosperity has nearly eliminated the need to delay gratification, and in fact has trumpeted and largely rewarded instant gratification as the smart choice of the cool, hip and connected.

    Maybe the bad economy, the current wave of frugality and websites like this will bring us back to where we need to be.

  10. felix says:

    when you want to buy anything try waiting a couple of weeks before buying. its very likely that you wont want it anymore or you will have learned something that has put you off it. what you really want is the feel good factor. when i stopped buying and started saving it far outweighed any instant gratifacation. that feeling doesnt go away!

  11. sayjack says:

    The delay of gratification is a common subject for study in the world of criminal justice. Most criminals are often observed lacking in this virtue. Some argue that advertising that saturates the media is to blame. I generally blame the individual but I will acknowledge that the plethora of upscale advertising has made an impact of those who were already susceptible to temptations.

  12. Patrick says:

    This is an interesting topic and a very funny video. I agree with many of the other commentors that we as a society are in the mindset that we must have everything now and that we cannot wait to have it. Most successful business people have to start out working for no money or actually losing money for some time.

  13. I had heard about that study– interesting.

    Delayed gratification is about self control and so is financial success . . .

  14. Bad_Brad says:

    This blog entry reminds me of the mistake that so many in the media and so many politicians make when talking about money – mistaking “income” for “wealth”. Income has to do with how much money you make in a time period. It is related to wealth but it is possible to have high income and zero or negative wealth, and it is also possible to have low income but a high level of wealth. But yet when politicians talk about the wealthy or the poor, they are talking about income. This assumes the two are perfectly linked, which they are not – it is possible to get rich on a small income, and it is also possible to have a high income but end up bankrupt.

  15. Rob O. says:

    Scientists also have some evidence to support a link between delayed gratification and intelligence. At the very minimum, it’s a given that patience and the ability to delay gratification are key indicators of emotional and social maturity.

    More than a fair share of the problem lies with Generation Y. They’ve been bred to expect and demand immediate gratification. And this mindset is very evident in the workplace.

    Can your kids survive a 10 minute ride to school or the grocery store without switching on the backseat DVD player, iPod, or PSP? I believe we’re actually fostering ADHD and related diseases by feeding into childrens’ natural inclination for immediate gratification.

    Technology may not be solely to blame, but the one-click immediacy of the digital world is an undeniably fertile breeding ground for the “gotta have it now!” mentality that’s pervading society. We’re going to have to work hard to help build a better, more patient attitude with the Generation Z kids.


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