Delaying gratification

Delaying gratification basically means:  Tell yourself you can have some later.

Say you have a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight.  How do you keep yourself from eating junk food at work or from eating more calories than you really need?

Studies discussed in Willpower by Baumeister show that the most successful method of, for example, not eating MnMs is to tell yourself that you can have some later.

People who said they could not have any wore down their willpower and eventually gave in.  People who said sure, they could have some, but not now, didn’t wear down their willpower and in the end, often didn’t have the candy later either.

Dave Ramsey talks about this:  Live like no-one else so that you can live like no-one else.  But by the time you’re financially free, you may not want all the stuff you craved when you were in debt.   However, telling yourself you could have it later helps with the gazelle intense part.

I find I do this a lot with ice cream.  I tell myself I can have some later that night only to forget about it until after I’ve brushed my teeth.  (Eventually the ice cream does get eaten, but when I’m actually hungry!)

Do you ever use this delaying gratification trick?  Does it work?

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35 Responses to “Delaying gratification”

  1. bardiac Says:

    Of course, at some point, there is no later.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Later: the best time to do anything.

      But I think that’s sort of the point. If you keep delaying things you shouldn’t do but want to do, eventually you won’t do them. Have a cigarette later.

      • bardiac Says:

        But it’s not always a matter of “shouldn’t do” but when, right? I shouldn’t do something pleasurable (X) now because I need to work (which may be pleasurable) and save my money. But, I may die and never use the money for the pleasure I was hoping to have (say, a trip, or ice cream). Even if you never smoke, you’re going to die. (I’d still encourage not smoking, for lots of reasons.) Not all pleasure or delayed gratification is about what one shouldn’t do, but about when one should do.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You don’t have to tell yourself you can have something later in an effort to cut down or stop if you don’t want to. You don’t have to cut down or stop pretty much anything unless it is illegal.

  2. Debbie M Says:

    Yes, it works. There’s a pizza place where and friend and I always order just one slice, telling ourselves we can have another one if we’re still hungry after we have that one. We only occasionally have the second one. (This only works if you really do let yourself have the second piece sometimes.) We’re so hungry and it smells so delicious that we know we want two, but we also know from past experience that one is usually enough.

    I also like regular restaurants better than buffets these days for that exact reason. I really can have the leftovers later whereas at buffets it’s hard to stop eating before I’ve eaten so much that I want to nap all day.

    It doesn’t work quite as well for certain kinds of purchases. When things are on sale or they are not always going to be available at the store, it really might not be something you can do later. Also, concerts–bands break up and people die.

    And it’s a terrible plan for things I am supposed to do. Like dishes, Cooking. Exercise. Laundry. Putting things up when I’m done with them. It’s better to do those things now, while I’m thinking about them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No, not something you want to do for something that yourself in time t+n (aka, the Future you) wishes you had already done. But your future self wishes you hadn’t eaten the pizza or mnms or smoked that cigarette.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Yes, it’s kind of weird that telling yourself that you can do something in the future that your further-in-the-future self will wish you hadn’t done can reduce the likelihood that you will do it.

        But you should still be careful about what you put off until you can afford it. There are occasionally things that are worth getting, even if the financial timing is bad, like rare family vacations and some pricy activities on vacation. My current self is thrilled to be in good financial shape, but also sorry that I missed the Star Trek simulation ride thingy when I was in Las Vegas for that wedding. [We did every other simulation ride we could find, which added up to less than the Star Trek one, so that felt good. In fact we had a great trip on very little money. But now that we do have money, the Star Trek one (and most of the others) are gone.]

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Most of my time inconsistency problems involve eating, and eating relatively boring things.

        And I dunno, maybe your future self would have been kicking herself even more had you gone on the ride, because it might have made things really unpleasant at some point before you had “enough” money. It’s hard to say. Seems like you were pretty happy with the vacation and had happiness from it for quite some time without the guilt from doing the ride.

        I’ve found that many things I put off buying and then aren’t available anymore, I’ve lived just fine without. Granted, ebay and amazon have made it easier to buy things used if I find I *really* wanted something, but as I get older I find that I didn’t really need a copy of that anime, and I haven’t even unwrapped that other anime I thought I had to have before it went out of print.

        But no, if you really actually feel like your life will not be complete without having gone on a ride, then telling yourself you can do it later may not be the thing to do. Of course, if you can’t actually afford it at this time, then you just can’t have it without sacrificing somewhere else. ‘Cuz you can’t always get what you want.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Well, when you put it like that, of course my life isn’t incomplete without any of the luxuries I have passed up for financial reasons!

        But you can err both ways with these decisions. It’s nice that with practice we get better at doing it just right.

  3. TodayWendy Says:

    This works fabulously with the small child – when she has had enough treats for the day, or enough videos being told “no, you can’t have another” is upsetting, but “yes, you can have one tomorrow” seems totally acceptable.

    • Debbie M Says:

      Yea! Great strategy! The best strategy I ever came up with for this situation is to play the “bye-bye” game: She doesn’t get to play on the escalator, but she does get to say “bye-bye” to it.

  4. First Gen American Says:

    I can delay material things indefinitely. Food is much harder for me because you can’t eliminate eating from your life and happens multiple times a day. That constitutes a lot of opportunities for the wrong choices. My best option was to just keep the junk food out of the house so it is not a choice.

  5. oilandgarlic Says:

    Interesting. I’ve been thinking of writing a post about delayed gratification, because I’m not sure it’s working for me right now. But I like your take on it…maybe I should write that post.

  6. rented life Says:

    It works with food sometimes. That one week of the month, I’m hungry for everything (cravings? I just crave food.) and it’s always harder then. Material things it tends to work, and like you said, sometimes time passes and you really don’t want it anymore. The things I still want after time passes I realize are things I *actually, really* want. But there are times where I’ve gone overboard of depriving myself, always saying “later”, but then later never comes, and then I feel resentful. So I need to be mindful of that. I know, for example, I could never buy new clothes or go out to eat once a month, to save that for other goals, but then husband and I end up at each other’s throats and I wear clothes with holes in them. (This has happened.) His sis mistakenly thinks that us going out to eat means we have money, but really we’ve decided, yes, we want a house or other goals, but not at the expense of not enjoying life now. It’s not worth it for us personally. And I finally have jeans that fit without extra holes. :)

  7. Linda Says:

    It usually works for me because I seem to have a really bad memory. I can’t think of one thing that I passed up doing/seeing/eating/drinking in the moment that I regret now. Maybe something will prompt my memory at some point to forget something I wanted, but I try not to beat myself up over stuff like that.

    When I’m hungry I try to push it off until the next meal. When I’m working at my office I’m usually successful because the food from the chain restaurants around me is so unsatisfying to me. All I have to do is think about what exactly I could buy as a snack — crappy candy, crappy pastry, green “styrofoam” fruit — and I decide I’d rather wait and eat my home-packed lunch or until I get home for dinner. At home I’m less successful because I have suitable yummies stocked up.

  8. becca Says:

    For me, it works at restaurants and desserts easily- it is a rare meal out I don’t feel sufficiently treated by the time dessert roles around that I still want it. However, a pet peeve is when OTHER people I am dining with, who do not care for sweets as much as I do, assume that since I *usually* pass on dessert I *always* will pass on dessert. This makes me feel like I have to order it ahead of time, and end up with WAY too much food, to ensure I have my chance. Blarg.

    On the other hand, delaying gratification at home is less useful. I nearly always end up eating that ice cream eventually. I have to make the correct decisions in the store to have the correct food at home (usually, this involves picking out an early impulse tiny sweet- the $1 hagen daez is good- so that I don’t have a large store at home).

    I am really, really, good at delaying purchases of objects. Perhaps too good, as I delay things like new tires for my car (albeit not to the point I got a flat, just until it wouldn’t pass safety inspection due to baldness). I once went back and found a list of things I had *intended* to buy when I first got my steady stipend check in grad school. 7 years later- only about half the items were purchased. The other half I’ve lived without. I still want that copy of Rise Up Singing though. Though of course, that itself is a substitute for the special camp songbook I didn’t purchase when I had the opportunity 15 years ago.

    I have real troubles with big life decisions because of this.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I always end up eating the ice cream or I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place, but I think I eat less ice cream overall and only when I’m actually hungry for it. Those little $1 premium ice creams are a really good idea.

      Perhaps you can find a used copy of that special camp songbook on the internets.

  9. KSK Says:

    I’ve been doing this for many years–I only eat sweets or dessert on days that start with an “S”. Not indulging dessert during the week is doable knowing that I can have dessert on Saturday and Sunday. I also enjoy it more!

  10. chacha1 Says:

    I <3 delayed gratification. One example: resisting the temptation of a vending-machine Milky Way in favor of "I'll pick up the Milky Way Dark downstairs later" means I will get a smaller, lower-calorie candy bar in the future that tastes much better.

    If, having returned to my desk with the MWD, I then get a cup of decaf and put the candy bar in the drawer "for later," I have the pleasant frisson of knowing there is sugar-laden misbehavior in my future *combined* with the righteousness of present resistance.

    Whereas, if I just go ahead and eat the vending-machine candy bar, I not only risk beating myself up for eating 270 calories of pure sugar, I still want the GOOD candy bar.

    In other words … I most often use delayed gratification to get a better class of indulgence, not just to move indulgence to a later time.

  11. MutantSupermodel Says:

    This came up in Power of Habit but he said research indicated willpower was a finite resource. It does dry up. So for someone whose life is generally easy, i.e. they do not have to use a lot of willpower through the day, there’s more of it to apply to making changes or resisting temptations. But for someone who is constantly using willpower, there is less of it, if any of it at all, to apply to making changes. It also explains why some days are harder to resist temptations than others. For instance: if the kids woke up all cooperative and happy, and getting them to school was pretty stress-free, you’d likely find it easier to say no thank you to a donut at an office party. BUT if the kids woke up cranky and uncooperative and you were using your willpower to get them to school on time without losing your temper, you are less likely to be able to resist the temptation of the donut because you used up a lot of your willpower.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yup. Willpower talks about that too, along with lots of ways to conserve willpower or use it up.

    • chacha1 Says:

      This is absolutely true. I like to think of delayed gratification not as an exercise of willpower but as an exercise in prioritizing, though. I still get to have the treat I want (or a better treat) so there is no actual self-denial in play. It’s more “do I want this crappy treat RIGHT NOW (and sometimes I do) or do I want to wait till after lunch and get something better.” It’s just a bonus that, often, waiting means I don’t want the treat any more.

      Oftentimes, optimal treats don’t cost much more than sub-optimal treats, so waiting for the good one doesn’t necessarily cost more; and all sorts of treats are so ubiquitously available (presuming we are talking here about trivia like candy bars or cocktails or new underwear) that it’s not a question of “now or never.”

      All that said … delayed gratification also works on the grand scale. There are a lot of people right now who probably wish they had put off buying a house a few years longer.

      I haven’t read the recent well-reviewed books on willpower but I suspect that if people are well-fed and well-rested, no matter how many decisions they have to make throughout the day, they feel less stress about it. When people are tired or dehydrated or hungry, though, even a trivial decision becomes a challenge.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It is true… I recently snapped at DH because he wanted me to choose between two dinner options and I was sleepy and hungry and out of choice power. (Part of why he was making dinner to begin with!) Poor DH.

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