Delayed gratification: what is it and how do we get it?

“What you want and what you need aren’t always the same. Be willing to delay short-term gratification for long-term greatness.” – Mandy Hale

What is delayed gratification?

All the way back when I was in high school, my English teacher brought up this concept in class called ‘delayed gratification’. He explained it was that feeling a person got after they completed a task (i.e. homework or assignments) and could finally relax and play games or read a book or do whatever it was they found enjoyment in.

I’m not the only one on this planet that loves to procrastinate and struggles to find motivation to do the important stuff. Sometimes if I have no energy, I’ll spend all my time watching random Youtube videos or even take a nap, instead of doing the work that is expected of me or work that I expect of myself. I know a lot of people do this as some sort of act of self-care and de-stressing. But is that really it?

When the deadline comes, I get anxious. I get panic attacks. My work isn’t up to standard as a result of lost time and an irrational/emotional state of mind. For other people, this could also be the effect of procrastination, or in some cases it would be even worse. This isn’t self-care. Yet people do it anyway.


Personally, I believe it to be because people in our generation find it difficult to find moments of happiness and relaxation. We’re so stressed about education, jobs, financial stability, family, friends etc. that we’ll take any moment we can to forget all of our problems. Or maybe the problem is more simple than that, we’re lazy or we find the work to be overwhelming in its capacity. It’s understandable, but it doesn’t solve the problem–only prolongs it until a later time.

So what do we do about it?

  1. Break it down: often I find that it’s incredibly easy to motivate myself to do work when I break it down into multiple steps and sections that I can calmly and cleverly work through. Make to-do lists with checkboxes (seeing a ticked box is incredibly satisfying on its’ own).
  2. Hold yourself accountable with others: ask people to check up on our progress. For me personally, I feel extra pressure to get the work done to a higher standard and also more quickly if I know that someone is going to make sure I’ve done my part.
  3. Take breaks: take a five-minute break in between work–twenty minutes of work and five minutes for a break. Constantly switching between can actually help if you don’t get sidetracked and it gives you a small break in between study, which is immensely satisfying.
  4. Switch up your work: when I have to study for three subjects, what I do is this: do one reading for one subject and then after that work on an assignment or reading from another subject. Not only will this mean the work won’t get monotonous and boring to complete, it can also help you to find links between the different subjects and broaden your understanding of both in a way (but only if the subjects are somewhat similar in terms of their topic).
  5. Talk about it: if you find that you’re getting too overwhelmed and it’s too stressful, talk to someone about it (literally anyone). It helps a lot, trust me!

When you’ve completed everything and can finally take a break, it will feel so worth it rather than having spent all that time relaxing and doing work at the last minute–and that is what delayed gratification is.

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