Why Is Delayed Gratification So Hard?


Why is it that most things in the world that we impulsively want are bad for us?

Why is it so easy to sleep in, eat a donut for breakfast, and buy a sugary latte from Starbucks?

Maybe our brains are wired to conserve energy and look for easy sources of energy and energy conservation. The people who acted on their primal impulses survived more and passed their genes on so it became us.

It’s built into the human condition. Even David Goggins talks about how some mornings he doesn’t want to run and will stare at his shoes for 30 minutes before finally getting out on the road.

How do we build our foundation to practice delayed gratification and stop acting on our impulses?

It Starts With Trust

Faith is a word I don’t use a lot anymore. Often associated with religion, the definition of faith is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”

Maybe there’s a reason why religions have called out to have faith. You need to believe in what you are delaying gratification for.

Delayed gratification doesn’t require only trust in yourself but social trust as well. I get it, it’s hard to trust in society today. You hear things about climate change, the worlds going to end in 20 years, every major city is a war zone of crime, etc. It’s not exactly reinforcing that our society is in a stable place. Maybe the reality is, it’s not a stable place. However, you need to trust what you are working towards will be rewarded by society or be a reward to yourself. If you do not, you will find an excuse to quit.

Maybe you do only believe in yourself and that’s great. If you don’t, you must believe in something to move forward.

Photo by Clayton Robbins on Unsplash


Learn To Enjoy The Process

One reason that I write is that I love the process. Even if I’m not publishing a lot of content, I write something almost every day. Even if it’s journaling my thoughts down, this is a practice that I have kept up for almost 10 years now.

The thing that gets in my way the most when I write, is thinking too much about what my outcome of it will be. Yes, I would love to have a massively successful blog but when I think about that too much, it gets in the way of me enjoying why I started doing this in the first place.

When I train for ultra marathons, I train each day to make progress each day. The reward is knowing that I am getting better and I thoroughly enjoy running. I enjoy the process of unplugging my mind and having it focus on something other than my normal racing thoughts.

Photo by Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash

Know When You’re On Autopilot

How often do you drive somewhere and don’t even remember the drive to the destination you were driving to? I’ve done this at least 1000 times in my life. It’s honestly frightening. I think about how I’ve wasted at least 4 months of my life sitting in a car commuting without even a recollection of what happened in that drive. Maybe I learned something from a podcast or audiobook but that’s beside the point. When we go on autopilot, we tend to act impulsively.

We get tired from a day at work, decide we don’t want to cook dinner, and order takeout. The routine becomes so easy that we end up doing it over and over again until we realize we are spending too much money on takeout or we gained some unexpected weight.

Understanding when you are on autopilot is critical to practicing delayed gratification.

How do you get out of being on autopilot? Start small by breaking one habit that you’ve identified. Build a new habit out of it and act like it’s the most important habit in the world to build for you. I know that sounds silly but I bet if some rich person came to you and said “if you eat a salad for dinner every night for a year, I will give you a million dollars.” You would act like that’s the most important thing in the world to you.

If you want to take it a step further, try to quantify your habit. Let’s say you spend too much money on takeout food. You do the math and realize that you spend $100 a week on takeout but if you cook at home, you would only spend $50 a week. $100 x 52 (weeks) is $5200. $50 x 52 is $2600. That means by the end of the year, you would have essentially made $2600 by doing nothing but changing a habit.


Delaying gratification is one of the hardest things to do. It’s not fun, it takes a long time and you often don’t see results from it but it is essential to become successful.

I personally find that the more often I choose to do something that is difficult, the easier it becomes for me. It takes days maybe even weeks to build momentum where it becomes easier to control my impulses and stop living my life on autopilot. However, as soon as I break that chain once, I feel like I’ve started over and need to rebuild it. Don’t allow the chain to break, it’s 100x easier to break your momentum than to start it back up again. Keep it going and have faith that you will be better off in the long run.



This post was previously published on medium.com.


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