Deferring gratification

Children who can defer gratification do better in later life. Children were offered one marshmallow immediately, or two if they could delay eating the first for an unspecified time. The ones who managed to delay for the longest, did best at college and in finding jobs later. The ones who delayed the shortest time were most likely to go to prison.

My friend said this was a matter of employing reason to overcome emotion. The rational mind thinks things through, the emotional mind follows impulses. But here the only motivation for wanting two marshmallows rather than two would be emotional, a desire to eat something sweet. If the children had been offered ice-cubes, unless it was hot and they were thirsty, they would not have bothered.

So it is a matter of having a particular skill- deferring gratification- rather than being “rational”. He found another false way of denigrating emotion: impulses are emotional, but so are long-term desires.

The way we think of these things affects how we can respond to them. Application is a skill to be developed, laziness is a vice to conquer, impulsiveness is a bad quality, these are things to be altered not personality traits. Brains are plastic. I feel seeing them in terms of developing and practising skills is useful, but also note that these things are difficult and take energy, and can be more difficult if you are tired. And motivation matters: if I have a clear understanding of how an act will benefit me, I am more likely to do it. Often, we do things because they are conventional, or because someone else wants us to.

Here I read a tactic to resist the temptation of a particular pleasure: think of a different pleasure. Children told to think of the marshmallows as fluffy clouds resisted temptation longer than those told to think of them as sweet and chewy, but those thinking of crunchy pretzels resisted longest. Thinking of the pleasure you could not have helped resist the temptation of the one within reach. Children who resisted the temptation also chose to distract themselves.

However that too might work for avoiding an immediate impulse, but not for doing something irksome. It would be better to find pleasure in the irksome task, or imagine what good it will accomplish. Think that you will have the pleasure in the future, rather than merely of having it.

2 thoughts on “Deferring gratification

  1. This all sounds so much like my earlier bouts with cross dressing as a means toward fighting my dysphoria…..except that there was never any true gratification – immediate or otherwise. I never was a cross dresser.


    • Deferring gratification is good if it is your own decision for your own reasons, not otherwise. Fighting an impulse is a pain, think of it as doing something good not avoiding something bad, find something better to think about. If cross-dressing is the only way you can express your femininity/ true self, then you will cross-dress.

      Liked by 1 person

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