The below article is highly influenced by the ideas of the popular Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Scott Peck.
Delaying Gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live. Delaying Gratification is considered to be possibly the single most important factor for life success.
This tool or process of scheduling is learned by most quite early in life, by about five years of age. At the age of five or six, children may start eating the cake first and then the frost. By the age of ten to twelve, children are already able to sit down on occasion without any parental prompting and complete their homework before they watch television or go out to play.
But, some adolescents fall short of this behavior. Some students, despite having average or better intelligence, have poor grades simply because they don’t work. They skip classes or skip school entirely on the whim of the moment. You may see them playing all day; they find it difficult to understand when exactly they should stop pleasure.
Why do some people don’t develop delay gratification?
But, why does this happen? Why do some people develop a capacity to delay gratification, while others don’t? The answer is not absolutely, scientifically known. The role of genetic factors is unclear. The variables cannot be sufficiently controlled for scientific proof. But, most of the signs rather clearly point to the quality of parenting as the determinant.
All children are terrified of abandonment, and with good reason. This fear of abandonment begins around the age of six months, as soon as the child is able to perceive itself as an individual, separate from its parents. For with this perception of itself as an individual comes the realization that as an individual it is quite helpless, totally dependent at the mercy of its parents for sustenance and survival. Most parents, even when they are ignorant, are instinctively sensitive of the child’s fears. ‘You know Mommy and Daddy are not going to leave you behind’; ‘Mommy and Daddy are going to come back to get you’; If these words are matched by deeds, month by month and year by year, then by the time of adolescence the child will have lost the fear of abandonment and will develop a deep inner sense that the world is a safe place. With this inner sense of safety, the child is free to delay gratification of one kind or other, because the child is secure in the knowledge that the opportunity for gratification, like home and parents, is always there when needed.
But many are not so fortunate. A substantial number of children actually are abandoned by their parents during childhood, by death, by desertion, by sheer negligence or lack of caring. Others fail to receive the assurance from their parents. So these children, instead of perceiving the world as a safe place, perceive that the world is a frightening and dangerous place, and they are not about to forsake any gratification in the present for the promise of greater satisfaction in the future, since for them the future holds no value.
In summary, for children to develop the capacity to delay gratification, it is necessary for them to have self-disciplined role models, a sense of self-worth, and a degree of trust in the safety of their existence. When these gifts have not been proffered by one’s parents, it is possible to acquire them from other sources, but in that case the process of acquisition is invariably an uphill struggle and often unsuccessful.