The Power of Delayed Gratification

Nov 15, 2018

The classic Aesop's fable about the ant and the grasshopper tells about a lazy grasshopper who spends the summer playing music, while an army of ants is busy hoarding up food for the winter. When the winter arrives, the grasshopper starves and begs for food from the ants, but they refuse.

If only the grasshopper had known to delay gratification and instead spent time planning for the winter, the situation would have been different.
In this world of WhatsApp, Facebook, Netflix, Flipkart and Alexa, we are losing the essence of patience and self-control. Everything we desire is available "on demand". The best example is the advertisement of MTS Internet Broadband where the moment a baby is born, he is internet-ready and far ahead of the grown ups around. It is meant to be a humorous take on internet speeds, but makes one think, are we so impatient that rather than enjoying the journey of life, we are in a rush to reach the destination? Remember the time when cell phones were not ubiquitous and if you were staying away from home, those weekend calls at the local phone booth were the most cherished moments. Remember the time when we used to wait for the next episode of Jungle Book or Star Trek to come up and all the anticipation made it worth the while. While there are many positives to instant gratification like motivation to do a task because a reward is in order or better customer service due to competition, it has its downside too. There is an increased anxiety and lack of self-control when things don’t go as expected. The practice of delayed gratification helps in building confidence and self-control and reaching long term goals faster.

In a classroom setting, inculcating the practice of delayed gratification can have a significant positive impact on children. In the 1960s, two Stanford professors conducted the Marshmallow Experiment on a group of pre school kids near the campus. Students were given a marshmallow and told they could have the marshmallow now, or have two if they wait until the researcher returned in fifteen minutes. The researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by scores in standardized tests, ability to handle stress, social skills and other life measures. Interestingly, the same students were studied again after a decade. The results were surprising. The students who could delay gratification ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of negative behaviors (drugs, crime etc.) better stress management and social skills and other life measures. This series of experiments proved that the ability to delay gratification was critical for success in life.

Below are a few of the things you can do to help your child learn to develop self-control and will-power:

  • Adapt to technology constructively - In a world saturated with technology and internet, we need to find ways to use internet and social media constructively so that students utilize the school time in more engaging ways. Use of well developed educational applications can ensure that screen time is used in more fruitful and productive ways. Since many schools utilize tablets to help students do their classwork and projects, they should teach strategic searching techniques to students to make their search less time consuming and more efficient.

  • Predictable reward and consequences system - Set up a delayed award system. For any good activity the child does, let them get tokens or pebbles which they can put in a glass jar. When they receive 10 tokens, let them get a reward from the class room store. By visually putting the tokens in a glass jar, you are letting the children see how the tokens are growing and feel a sense of achievement when they meet their goal.

  • Meditation techniques - Introducing students to meditation will establish a discipline in their lives which will spill over to adulthood and also build their will power.

  • Sports - Nothing builds willpower as much as indulging in a sport and working hard to excel in it. An athlete requires perseverance, discipline, training and hard work to see results in his performance. Instilling these sporting values will prepare them for life.

  • Give responsibility - Let each child take care and nurture a plant over a period of time. This sets up a system of daily habit and also teaches them the importance of nurturing relationships.

As an educator and a parent , one of our end goals is to ensure that the students are self motivated, self aware and productive individuals. Delayed gratification is one such practice which sets them for success in life.

“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Toiled ever upward through the night.”

  • H W Longfellow

-Madhavi Agnihotri

Madhavi Agnihotri

A technologist passionate about how an effective education system can build a future ready generation.