Delaying Gratification


For many of us, our inability to say no (to certain things), has been, is, and will be, the thing that stands between us and success. At least until we determine to choose, do and be different. More often than not, putting off pleasure ‘in the now’ is the difference between failure and success over the long term. Especially when it comes to transforming our bodies.

Think drugs, alcohol, food, sitting on the couch.

The Quick-Fix

Working with thousands of people over the last hundred years (or so), it’s been my experience and observation that the need for a quick fix is what brings many of us undone. And I’m not just talking about food or drugs here. Being addicted to pleasure (or comfort) in the now is usually synonymous with pain, disappointment, under-achievement and even illness, over the long term. Our short-term gain becomes our long-term pain. Especially when that short-term gain (salt, fat, sugar, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, sex) creates almost-instant biochemical changes in our physiology. 

PIzza Anyone?

Why does the obese guy (who says he wants to lose weight) eat a large pizza when nobody’s watching? Because (1) he doesn’t want people to know (2) it gives him instant pleasure and (3) if he doesn’t eat the pizza (thereby delaying gratification) it won’t give him instant weight-loss (something he desires), so instant pleasure (in this instance, pizza) it will be. Followed by an hour or three of self-loathing. Again.

And so the cycle continues.

There’s always next Monday. :(

The Marketing and the Reality

Away from the promises, the marketing, the sale’s pitches and the hype of ‘personal development’ (the industry), the practical reality for the majority of us ‘normal folk’ who want to change our lives (or part thereof) is that the change process is typically a messy, uncomfortable, inconvenient and painful one. For a while, at least. Despite what the book (CD, DVD) cover says, inside-out transformation is rarely quick, easy or painless.

More than ever, I’m convinced that most would-be transformers (people who want to change some aspect of their reality) are barking up the wrong tree. In terms of success or failure, the critical issue is not (1) what we know (surprisingly) (2) what we understand or (3) what resources we have at our disposal but rather, (4) what we’re willing to give up in ‘the now’ to get where we want to go in the future.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Suu February 12, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Hi Craig and the rest of us wonderful people
I’ve had a lot of time to think about delayed gratification, especially over the last 24 hours but I learned quite a few years ago that if I delayed having the cake/cream/bikkie (or even an ‘early lunch) etc, I found that I didn’t really want it at all. My way of doing it was to do something else. Replace the urge with something worthwhile so I drew up a list of things I could do instead of eat out of boredom, grief, tiredness, or even elation.
Some of these things included deliberately turning my back on the fridge or pantry and walking away. I’d have a bath – hard to eat cake in the bath. I’d walk outside and just have a look at what was going on in the street around me. Instead of having the mindset that I simply must have something in my mouth right then and there I had to make a conscious effort to swap food for a non-food thing to do.
(I’m not sure if I’ve explained it well as it’s hard to write about it on here when this was my biggest lesson to learn.)
With all of the lessons that you’ve been giving us over the past couple of weeks it’s all coming back to me in a rush of memory that I don’t live to eat – I eat to live.
I’m well on my way to losing those 15kg that I piled back on and I want to thank you and the rest of the mob here for guiding me.


Anonymous February 12, 2012 at 10:22 pm

I want to change, I’m desperate to change, I’ve been trying to change for the last 30 years. Part of me thinks it’s just time to accept that I’m fat and I always will be, another part doesn’t want to give up. The idea of delayed gratification isn’t a complicated one, so why is it so hard to put into practice? How can I persuade myself that the instant pleasure of sugar/fat/salt is outweighed by the benefits of having a healthy body when *I already know that* and I still find food hard to resist?

In the past I have had shortage of food, I certainly lost weight but it was painful. I can’t seem to get it right. I hate being fat and I hate starving myself as well. It’s hard not to go all or nothing and eat sensibly.


sohn February 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm

You just have to start doing it. You get used to not having the unhealthy foods by surrounding yourself with healthy foods in your house. Throw away all the unhealthy crap. Keep track of your food intake with a daily diary because you will start to get ashamed when writing down bad snacks that you digest. Make sure you keep up with the food diary. These are just a couple suggestions im no expert


Beach bear February 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Hi anonymous,

My suggestion is to just try and change one little thing at a time until they all add up to major lifelong changes. If you try and do too many things at once you become overwhelmed and it just feels like its all too hard.

ONe little baby step at a time…for example this week you may decide that you wont have anything after your dinner. Habits can be very hard to break but when you break them down into more manageable chunks the process can at least seem far less daunting.

Then one day you will realise that you are living a much healthier lifestyle and you may have lost some weight and actually find yourself happier for it…..and without the trauma of sudden major overwhelming drastic life changes that seem impossible when taken in one big lot.

Hope this makes some sort of sense! Good luck on your journey :)


Sohn February 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

Yea I actually agree with Beach Bear, and retract my statement – it is much easier to make smaller changes. Like one day Craig talked about how we should challenge ourselves to ONLY drink water that day.

The first major health change I’ve actually made in my life was just taking away all sodas. And it surprisingly is not hard. The other thing that you will find really helps, maybe you can do later, is consuming as little sugar as possible. When you avoid sugar you actually have a LOT LOT easier time and less craving for more sugar. It is absolutely amazing how that happens.


PG February 15, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Oh Anon, I hear ya. it can really get you down if you let it. I feel the same way as you about hating being fat and wanting to change, but how do you actually do it….and the hints other people have replied to you are excellent – break it down – baby steps – and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. I really like the idea suggested by someone else about making a big list of the OTHER stuff you can do when you want to eat stuff you know is bad for you. The instant gratification stuff is so hard to break.

But my partner and I instituted a reward system like you’d do for kids. Stuck it on the fridge (hid it when guests came over – lol) and every time we chose to do something OTHER than eat crap, we’d get a star. Everytime we made the other person exercise with us, another star. Everytime we worked out, another one. Then if you talked the other person OUT of buying crap or eating it, then you get two! that’s a big deal to be empathetic and still discourage someone from doing something they know they shouldn’t.

Work out where your trigger points are (mine are varied – but one big one is after dinner – “dessert time” in front of the TV – I had to replace my choc, icecream etc with other stuff – a decaf coffee or painting my nails or doing a bit of crafting, or anything else that floats your boat or getting take away because I was “so tired” and “couldn’t be bothered cooking”) and then avoid the food, do something else and BANG! Another star. Your triggers will be different and really think about those danger zones and then come up with alternatives.

The stars are fun because they’re visual and the competition is sparked (esp if your partner has to lose weight too) and they remind you of what you’re trying to do.

Then, once you’ve earned whatever number stars (ours was 20), you get a non-food reward. We drew up what those rewards would be in advance – a manicure, a pedicure, a massage, an arvo to yourself while someone else looks after the kids, a book, some clothes, shoes etc etc) and then picked my reward. While I enjoyed the reward, I thought about how slim I was getting, how healthier I felt, I really SUCKED all that fun and specialness of the reward into my body in a very conscious way to fill up the bits I was trying to fill by eating. And that felt good!

And it really does come down to making the discipline thing be more important than the immediate gratification of just eating. And if you can, I’d recommend the delaying the eating thing when you feel that compulson, and REALLY being honest with yourself and sitting with what’s going on for you – why are you anxious, what prompted the binge, what are your emotions telling you and thinking about why you wanted to make yet another bad decision about food. And as you can work out WHY you do that to yourself, you gain a bit more power to stop yourself from making the bad decisions. delaying is great – if you can force yourself to do it. Often you don’t want it after you’ve put a name on what you’re actually feeling that you wanted to FEED to make go away. ie – shame, guilt, anger, loneliness, bored, not important etc….

But if I can do it and get weight off, then anyone else can too. You don’t have to starve yourself. It’s time to be kinder to yourself. More empathy too. Remember – if you can love yourself (no matter what your size), then others will too. Good luck and keep listening to Craig – he’s amazing!!!

PG x


chebbieanne February 12, 2012 at 10:26 pm

I think the person eats the pizza because he/she does not believe that it will matter in the long term.
The person wants to lose weight but because they do not believe that will actually happen they might as well eat the pizza anyway.
All fat people have and lost and gained weight so many times they numb their ability to believe they can do it and maintain it so why bother – hence why not eat the pizza.
They see success as losing a massive amount of weight they dont think the little bits matter. I think it is when you see that doing one small thing at a time can be very gratifying that you start to change that belief system.
As you regain that confidence that you can make it happen the pain etc really does not matter. Fat people know pain very well they know what it feels like only too well but what they have forgotten is how success feels. They are fixated on pain.
Success is an addiction too – the more you have the more you want and like all addicts you dont care what it takes to get that fix.
When you master the little things they grow into big things just as an ocean is filled one rain drop at a time.


Priscilla February 13, 2012 at 4:52 am

You said, “(4) what we’re willing to give up in ‘the now’ to get where we want to go in the future. ” For me, I can’t look at it as “giving up” something. My inner rebel kicks in with this translation: What do you mean, I can’t have this right now?! I ask myself instead: What am I really giving up? Sometimes this works.


sohn February 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm

good way to look at it. what am i ‘really’ giving up?


Ben Nowlan February 13, 2012 at 6:13 am

Absolutely. Good article and a nice reminder. We take living in the ‘now’ the wrong way and become ‘hedonistic’ instead. This is in part because we avoid responsibility and we fear failing.


Nashy February 13, 2012 at 8:52 am

I recommenced a fitness/get into shape campaign in November 2011. After weighing myself at 107.9kgs I decided enough was enough. Despite training for 6-7 weeks and feeling much fitter I had noticed marginal changes in my weight. After keeping a diary for 2 weeks it became appararent to me that I was eating far too much food – good and bad. So I have altered my intake of food significantly and it is amazing that when you focus on not eating for the sake of it how much time you work out that you are not hungry and do not need to eat. The result – this has been a 4 week journey so far and I am down to 101.2kgs – no increase in training, a better watch on what I eat but an absolute vigilance on how much I eat. It works and people have even noticed now the weight coming off. I have a goal to get under 100kgs, then 95kgs and finally 90kgs. This will take time but staying the journey is the key.


Tracey February 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Congratulations Nashy!

Last year I weighed 103.3kgs and now I weigh 90.4kgs. Just keep plugging away and you will do it.

I put on almost 3kgs after a long overseas trip, but am now back to my usual mode of exercising and eating a great range of healthy foods. I have the occasional lunch out. I think one meal a week out of 21 doesn’t make much difference so I indulge.

Keep up your amazing work. You will be under 100kg before you know it. That moment when you are back in double digits (eg 99.9kgs) is FANTASTIC. But at the same time don’t get hung up on numbers (Harps will find out where you live and come and smash your scales ;-) )

Great work :D


Evan February 13, 2012 at 9:21 am

Change can be messy and take a while – so it can help to organize quick and easy wins. Do small and easy steps and reward yourself for every step taken (not with rewards that defeat your aim though)


Jc February 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Great post.
They’re called small battles but at the end of the day… they’re difficult to win.


Tina February 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Good article. We reach for the quick fix to fire up the old endorphins in order to distract us from what really matters. A good book to read ‘What the hell are you chasing?!’ When you let go of how it should be and embrace how it is, your life will magically become the one you have been striving so hard for all of these years’ by Andrew Roberts


Annie Mac February 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Life is amazing. I opened this message this morning and the message came through in blazing lights. Thanks Craig the right message at the right time. It all makes good common sense and I guess we intrinsically know this but to see it in black and white brings it home.


Kevin February 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Hi Craig, I am currently in Ghana on an extended work trip and am beginning to flag re my focus on the job at hane looking fwd to getting hom to Perth and family soon. I found this post of yours like an electric bolt! The message wa sloud and clear to me, BUCK UP!! A perfectly worded and timed jolt for me to focus and get the best out of my day!

Many thanks!


Lana February 14, 2012 at 11:08 am

Hi Craig,
Thanks for this post yesterday…. walking around my city (Brisbane) reading on the run got me thinking about why the hell do I mindlessly eat all the time…. why is it that I am so self-aware of things I say & do in life but I’m not self-aware when it comes to my relationship with food? I get bored & I eat …. without even thinking about what I’m about to do.
We always bang on about people who are after instant gratification & I feel for those Gen-Yer’s out there who often cop this tag …. they have everything marketed at this very thing & its waved under there noses all the time they’ve grown up on it & it’s like they know nothing else …. then I figured I am no better except my gratification is with food not high-tech toys.
Reality is; the buck stops with me I need to get real, stop lying to myself & start channelling my boredom elsewhere, like writing or assignments or my clients or even training instead of looking to the fridge or the pantry to find what makes me happy in life… & when it comes down to it I really need to take an introspective look when I’m about to reach for what I has always been gratification in food.
Thanks you’ve just changed the way I think about food! (even though I’ve known for a long time it’s fuel)


PG February 15, 2012 at 2:47 pm

As usual, you’re amazing, Craig – I bloody love the way you’ve put this and again, practical tools to do the work to get where we want to go. I loved this – I really did. Thank you. It’s exactly what I’ve needed to hear!!! PG xx


Tracey February 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Quite often I put my workout status on my facebook page. I get loads of “good on you” and others say what they are doing exercise wise. It’s great motivation for us all.

I posted this article on facebook and the silence was deafening. I thought it would generate lots of discussion but I only had one person comment on it.


Brian Madigan February 17, 2012 at 5:42 am

Hey Craig. I really enjoyed this one. The instant gratification trap shows up everywhere in our lives. We’re brought up to want it all and want it now. This short-term focus robs many of us of so many things in life including, of course, wellness. The reality is that few things that are really worthwhile are easy. Nor do they happen instantly. The more we can zoom out on our lives, look at the bigger picture, and then take small steps towards a better long-term life the happier we will end up being.


Craig January 22, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Hi Craig,
I always find your articles/comments enormously beneficial regardless of the subject. I regard resisiting something that I know shouldn’t have or don’t need to be an achievement in itself. No matter how much you would like to accept that offer of a cream cake or a beer, “the more you resist the temptation the easier it gets”. I don’t always succeed using that theory but thats OK because it’s a far better success rate than I’ve ever had before. I live by that very phrase now, “the more you resist the easier it gets” and I’ve never been in more control of my health and body shape.


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