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On Delayed Gratification...

Some time ago, I came across a NY Times article (“Marshmallows and Public Policy”) that quoted work by psychologist Walter Mischel whose experiments showed that delayed gratification among 4 year olds was positively correlated with success later in life. Delaying or deferring gratification was regarded as a proxy for discipline and self control, something that makes intuitive sense.In the psychological experiment children were shown one marshmallow, and told they would be rewarded with two marshmallows if they could resist the temptation to eat the first treat until the instructor returned to the room. Only 30 percent of the kids could hold out. We are in an age when controlling our impulses is getting increasingly harder, as technology allows us to shorten the time between impulse and reward. You want to check out something? Just Google it - adding yourself to the 3 billion google searches per day, or the 35,000 questions which are being asked every second. You want to listen to your favorite song? No problem. It is instantly accessible in your pocket, in your itunes library, or on any number of sites that allow audio or video streaming.In today’s ‘instant culture’, deferring something you want for later is getting increasingly rare. We’ve become less patient knowing that technology is there to help us accomplish most things. In fact, a study has shown that 1 in 4 people abandon a web page if it takes longer than 4 seconds to load.Or consider relationships. Gone are the days of writing romantic letters and long periods of patient courtship. You want to find your soulmate? Join one of thousands of sites that offer romantic match-making. Or better yet, you can go speed dating where you meet potential mates in quick succession. In 3-8 minutes, you’re bound to figure out if the chemistry exists or not, right? Well, if only things were that simple.... I wonder what this means for the link between delayed gratification and success in business. Is it likely to still hold or will it erode in the face of everything being possible the instant you want it? Why wait?

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