top of page
  • Writer's pictureMarica Binns


Maybe we have learned a few life lessons during Covid 19 lockdown? Perhaps one of the better ones may be DELAYED GRATIFICATION as we’ve all had to become more patient.

Delayed gratification means resisting the temptation of an immediate reward. Let me simplify this:-

Those of us trying to lose weight may well give in to the cream cake or chocolate bar because we see it and we want it. Eating it right now brings us instant gratification; yet the long-term effects of that are damaging as we live to regret it a few days later when we haven’t lost any weight.

To put simply, if you do something in haste that you know may make you feel rotten later on, then perhaps its not worth doing in the first place?

People who stick around in bad or abusive relationships may do so because it brings them instant gratification. It means they don’t have to be alone in life, they don’t have to think about moving house or disrupting their children, they don’t need to go through the hassle of solicitors and financial worries; hence their immediate gratification brings them instant comfort. I call it the ‘stick with what you know’ syndrome! However, we know the damaging long term effects of sticking in a bad or abusive relationship means down the line they will be sorry for not getting out earlier.

Some people are just hard-wired to take the easy route (although actually living that way doesn’t make life easy) and others are hard-wired to push for what they know will give them the best outcome long-term and wild horses will not allow them to give into something that brings them damage further down the line. We often see these kind of people as being strong and maybe even admire them?

Now there was a great deal that Freud got wrong in my book, but one of the things he most definitely did get right was his work around ‘THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE’ He told us that humans were hard-wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is why children seek instant gratficiation most of the time as they have yet to learn this may bring them problems down the line. Yet as we mature, this desire is tempered by ‘ THE REALITY PRINCIPLE’ or the ability of humans to consider risk versus rewards, by which we’re able to delay fulfilment, especially if the later reward is greater than the one we’d get immediately. This is DELAYED GRATIFICATION.

For most of you out there, delayed gratification is incredibly important. Our ability to hold out for a better reward later is an essential life skill. It allows you to do things like forego spending money on big purchases or unnecessary items so you can have a holiday later in the year. It allows you to skip having the chocolate so when you get on the scales next Friday morning, you’ll be highly delighted with yourself. It enables you to resist opening yet anther bottle of wine when you feel you’ve drunk enough!

Right now, I am seeing my friends on social media posting videos of their little darlings doing just so. They are placing plates of sweeties in front of their child and then leaving the room after telling them not to touch the sweeties till they return. The child is told that if they’ve left the sweeties alone, they will be rewarded later with more sweeties. Most children eat the sweeties the minute the parent has left the room, but some manage to hold out for the ‘more sweeties’ reward later.

Interestingly, a fab study was done in the 1960’s exactly like this. A psychiatric professor tested hundreds of young children by leaving them a single marshmallow on a plate and leaving the room after telling them if they didn’t touch the one marshmallow, they will be rewarded with two marshmallows when the adult returns. Some of the children restrained whilst others gave in to instant gratification. Researchers following these children into adulthood over a span of 40 years. By and large the children who restrained and delayed their gratification were far more successful in almost all areas of life. They scored higher on standardised tests, were healthier, and responded better to stress. They had fewer substance abuse issues, and researchers concluded that the capacity for delayed gratification is pivotal to success in almost every facet of life.

So lets talk about you trying to develop self-control, and this is not an exercise in you having enough bottle to deny yourself anything pleasurable – far from it; its more about orienteering your brain towards delayed gratification by starting really small, like waiting an extra ten minutes before you dish up your pudding or eat your chocolate. If you continually do it small and keep improving one percent at a time, you will build confidence with each goal you achieve.

There may well be certain parts of your life that have no need for this newly adopted pattern of behaving. You may not need to refrain from certain foods or alcohol, and you may be in total control of your finances without any need to overspend or waste money; but one area you may struggle with is finding your relationship needs overhauling, and that you’ve allowed and accepted things to be wrong for too long. So in effect, you chose instant gratification! You found it easier to stick with what you know rather than get off your bum and find something new and better. Maybe you have good reason for this; you may be averse to uprooting your family, so you stick with abuse, verbal and maybe even physical, whilst all the while your confidence is dipping lower than the pile on the carpet. You know deep down that delayed gratification would come once you were settled in your own home, alone, stable and safe from trauma and without the constant battle of arguing with a partner, but you prefer the instant gratification of staying put - because its easier (and quite possibly cheaper!) That’s fine if you can live with that, but think carefully about the choices you make now and how they may affect you down the line.

So, there may be parts of your life you apply this rule and other where you do not. If you can train your brain to accept delayed gratification, then many of the issues you had earlier on in life will abate.

Those of you that have shared time with me as your therapist will have heard me harp on about ‘learnt behaviour’ all the time, and its actually proven that having resistance to instant gratification where rewards are better later on are actually borne out of learnt behaviour. You can teach yourself anything new at any age. For after all, whatever you’ve learnt, can be unlearnt, and therefore it is possible to change old habits and behaviours for new, and better ones. The ones that may take some waiting on, but in the long run will be worth it.

Again, if you are a present or former clients of mine, you’ll be used to me telling you to pick up a pen and paper and make a list of things you need or want to change in your life. Not necessarily massive things, they can be small behaviours or traits you’d like to amend. So do this with the pleasure principle. Think about all the things you readily opt for instantly, and which of those things will be better in the long term if you delay your gratification. GOOD LUCK MY FRIENDS.

Marica x.

82 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page