How to Delay Gratification and Get What You Truly Want Out of Life

“The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the indispensable prerequisite for success.”
Brian Tracy

What is holding you back from making big, positive changes with your habits? What is messing up your progress and making your motivation drop after a while? What makes you sometimes quit before you barely got started?

I am guessing one answer could be the need for instant gratification. It was for me.

But over the years I have learned a few things that help me to delay gratification for the most part so that I can reach more long-term goals and make new and positive habits into normal parts of my life.

Here’s what helps me.

Build a supportive environment.

When ads, magazines and other media over and over tell you that you can reach a goal very quickly – lose 30 pounds in 10 days! – you may start to expect such results. But in reality it is often a bit messier and takes more time and effort than that.

So start recreating the environment you live in. Discard some of your old input that just frustrates you in the end. Add new sources that support delaying gratification.

  • Start to read blogs that keep your motivation and optimism up but also focus on long term progress.
  • Read books from people who have done what you want to do. People who can paint a picture of what you may encounter based on experience and give you a more accurate time-frame for success.
  • Talk to the people in your life or outside of it that seem to be good at delaying gratification. See if they have some strategies and tips that can help you.
  • If you can get accountability partner that helps you to stay on track with for instance your diet or building your own business then that can be very helpful too.

Adjust your expectations with the help of your new environment and use the environment for support when you feel like giving up or giving into an instant gratification impulse.

Detach from of the outcome and learn to find the pleasure in the journey.

When I lost 26 pounds in 2009 and over the years as I have built this blog I have created and used an environment that supported the long term work. But when I have actually done the exercising or writing, day after day and week after week, I have detached from the outcome.

I first got this tip to detach from the ancient Sanskrit Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita. It says:

“To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction”

This tells me to understand that I cannot control the results of my action. I can’t control how someone reacts to what I say or what I do. And that I should do what I do just because it is something I want to do rather than because of some outcome I’d like. But at the same time I should not let these two ideas lead me to become passive and get stuck in sitting on my hands and not taking action at all.

Basically, I do what I think is right and that is my responsibility. And then the rest (the possible results), well, that is not up for me to decide about or try to control. I let it go.

Now, I apply this when I do something. I can get motivated by future results before the doing the activity. But when I start doing any of those activities I detach and change how I think. I just focus on showing up and doing. This may sound a bit weird or hard but after a while it gets easier and easier to do that shift in your mind and to not start projecting into the future while you are doing.

I have applied this to these 3 areas for example:

  • Working out. By focusing on just showing up and doing the workout you won’t get discouraged when you haven’t lost x pounds after a week. You become more patient and more emotionally stable when you don’t think about losing that weight all the time. If you just show up and work out – and control what you eat – the pounds will come off. This really helped me to get into better shape and to find the enjoyment in doing the work outs.
  • Blogging. If you don’t have to worry about what people may think about your next post then it becomes a lot easier to calmly write what you want instead of getting stuck in some kind of writer’s block. This has made it a lot easier for me to keep writing pretty much every week for the last 6 years and to make that journey so much more enjoyable and fun than it could have been.
  • Social interactions. If you detach from an outcome such as someone liking you at a party or on a date then you’ll be less nervous. You won’t try to impress people. You will be more like how you are with your closest friends, relaxed and easy going. Just being yourself is an often cited and sometimes criticized piece of advice. By detaching from outcomes – while still of course using your common sense – it will be a lot easier to just be the best version of yourself.
    Using this approach was a huge help for me to just have fun and be more relaxed as I improved my social skills.

Pause when an impulse is about to sway you onto the wrong path.

When you feel the need to give into an impulse to wolf down some candy even though you trying to get into better shape or you feel the urge to check your Facebook instead of focusing on doing an important task then just pause.

Just pause and be still. I have found that the need will pass if you don’t do anything for a few seconds or minutes. Then think of something better to do and do that instead.

And if you slip and still give into the impulse then don’t beat yourself up. Instead, think about how you can avoid giving into that impulse again. Try to find a solution to use the next time you are in such a situation. Then get back on track again and keep going.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Great article! Delaying gratification is something I struggle with almost daily and I’ve written about it myself, but there are some fine tips here, particularly about enjoying the journey.
    If we’re always looking ahead, we’ll miss the beauty before us.

  • Hey Henrick,

    I saw your post on fb and wanted to see what all you had to say.

    I believe the idea of delayed gratification is ingrained in most of as children. I think it is a limiting belief that we need to let go of.

    We can have fun NOW! Believe in ourselves NOW! Love others NOW! Lose weight NOW! Believe and feel we are successful NOW! Someday never comes! The life we create comes from the thoughts we put our focus on. If we don’t like what we are creating then we can change it by changing our thought patterns and letting go of the beliefs that have held us back.

    I really appreciate how you point out that we need to be conscious and present when we are living our lives. There is nothing delayed about that. Neither is there delay in the concept of “finding pleasure in the journey”. This is a NOW attitude, too.

    I understand your point about not being attached to outcomes, but honestly, if we are determined to, say, heal a relationship then I say “Be attached to the outcome.” Don’t give up because of the naysayers or people who think you should just move on.

    Mostly, I would just say, whatever is based in conventional wisdom just doesn’t work and what is based on the laws of God=love=happiness=peace=joy is worth being completely attached, to.

    What I believe we need to let go of, is the “how” things will work out. That is not our function.

    If we are listening to our intuition when we hear things like, “lose 30 pounds FAST” we will not be sucked in. That ad just feeds the ego/lower minds not the Higher Mind.

    Thank you for the interesting and thought provoking article and the opportunity to share.

    Elaine Enlightening

  • Plug


    great site

    but I see where elaine is coming from

    but yout point is also valid especially in situations like starting a business or marriage

    in both instances, gratification is definetly not coming immediately

    you have to learn to be patient on that end

  • Great article – thank you!

    One interesting thing about delaying gratification is that whenever we think about what we are delaying, we are also imagining that thing (object) in our mind.

    Essentially we are thinking about it EVERY DAY.

    To be successful, it’s important to come up with a different way to talk to ourself so that we can

    1. Reach our goal
    2. No longer keep thinking about what we are putting off.

    Can it be done? absolutely.

  • Hi Henrick,
    Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
    Networking, Social Media and Blogs have made just to do what Charlie suggested, so much easier and fun today.

    And when delayed gratification comes, I instantly related to the Bhagvad Gita quote that you posted. It says, “Do it not because your emotions demand, do it not because you want that result, but do it because IT IS YOUR DUTY”.

    What an awesome principle to live by. Great post with some incredible suggestions. Thank you for sharing.


  • Jacko

    I really like this concept. Delaying gratification.

    So much of our time is INSTANT RIGHT NOW NO WAIT.

    No, wait.

    It’s time to slow down. isn’t it?

  • I remember when I was working on my book, which was published earlier this year. I used to write a lot of blog posts and articles for others because I could finish them faster and get faster, more instant gratification. But that short-term success kept me from achieving the bigger goal–finishing my book–sooner.

    I’m famous for getting overwhelmed with all the things I think I should be doing (according to various email lists and social media discussions). Sometimes the information I get is good but it’s info overload and becomes nothing but a distraction and noise. Focusing on things in a proper order is the key to my sanity.

  • Patience is definitely a virtue. I like the concept of detaching yourself from the outcome. It is like driving down a road. You can’t see your final destination, you only see what is immediately ahead.

    But you know that you WILL get to your destination if you keep going. It also takes discipline to develop these habits. But unfortunately, that is not what sells in the marketplace.

    Thanks Henrik for this post.

  • Thank you everyone for your kind words and for sharing your own insights about delaying gratification!

  • Thanks for the post. I think this article is a perfect example of how people today are so focused on short-term outcomes and quick wins, rather than long-term and sustainable development. This does not only involve individual people like you and me, but it can also be observed in large corporations and global affairs. I find this quite worrying, as I believe that quick wins have the potential of destroying long-term development.