Back in the 60’s, researchers experimented on four year old children. They offered them one marshmallow immediately, or two marshmallows if they could hold out for several minutes. Those who held out could delay gratification. Those who couldn’t were like me.
Now, I didn’t do the test, but I can tell you exactly what would have happened if I had. I would have waited till the experimenter’s back was turned and scoffed down that whole packet of marshmallows. (Okay, that’s not exactly true. I don’t like marshmallows. But if it had been spoonfuls of Nutella I would have eaten the whole jar.)
Today, as an adult, I’m exactly the same. I am hopeless at delaying gratification. When I decide to purchase an item of clothing, for example, I need to have it right then and there. Bear in mind, this isn’t about being a shopaholic princesss. I actually don’t buy myself a lot of clothes. But when I do decide I need something new – say my favourite jeans are falling apart and I need another new pair – I have to buy them NOW. I can’t delay. If I have jobs to do, or kids to look after, or meals to cook, or a house to clean, they must wait until my mission has been completed. I cannot rest, I cannot focus, until I’ve gone out and bought my jeans.
Obviously, because of this problem, I can’t do lay by. Even if I don’t intend to wear the purchase straight away, even if lay by is the more sensible financial option, I need to have them in my possession. And if I’m not financially flush I’d rather put them on credit card than pay them off over a period of weeks.
Of course, I have experienced lay-by. Once. It was autumn, I needed a jacket, I’d found the perfect one, and my sister forced me to put it on lay-by as an exercise in delayed gratification. “You must learn to wait,” she told me.”It’ll be good for you.” So I agreed.
I paid the deposit and went home thinking about the jacket. And thought. And thought. And, after a night of agitation, I ran back to the store the following morning, paid the balance, and took my jacket home. I couldn’t wear it for weeks for fear my sister would discover what I’d done, but I felt comforted just knowing it was there in my closet.
My inability to delay gratification extends to all areas of my life. I eat dinner as the main course is still cooking, and when I say 'dinner', I actually mean 'dessert'. I read the last chapter of books when I’m halfway through (which kind of defeats the purpose of reading the middle). I Google the endings of movies I'm about to see. And I bite my nails, because I can't wait for them to grow. I'm sure I'm missing out on all the marvellous bounty of savouring the anticipation, but unfortunately, that's just not the way I'm built. Shameful, I know.
So am I alone? Can you delay gratification? Or are we just a generation of Need-It-Nows???