What stops us from achieving goals?

Delayed gratification is an understanding that if you forgo an immediate benefit at the present, you have the potential to achieve larger goals and benefits in the future. This concept can be seen in the marshmallow test, where Stanford researchers found that the ability to delay gratification was liked to a number of positive outcomes such as academic success and healthy relationships.


In a study conducted by Harvard, people were asked to report on their ability to persist in long term goals, and whether or not there were any immediate benefits, or delayed benefits associated with these. The results indicated that people’s level of enjoyment in the actual pursuit of their goals, whatever they may be strongly correlated in whether or not they persisted in achieving them, regardless of how important they deemed their goal to be.

The study also found that while the expected delayed gratification was important in the individual setting goals in the first place, immediate benefits are a stronger predictor of persistence to achieve a goal.


There are three main strategies one can undertake to achieve longer-term goals.

1. Make sure you enjoy what needs to be done to achieve a goal. For example, if you have a goal to lose 10 kilograms by the end of the year, you will be more likely to stick to this goal if you are eating healthy foods you enjoy the taste of, and are doing exercises you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy what is necessary to achieve a long-term goal, it is likely that you’ll give up.

2. Create immediate benefits while you pursue a long-term goal. Even though some goals might not have immediate benefits, by making certain necessary tasks more enjoyable, such as listening to music while exercising, you may find that you are able to persist with goals longer.

3. Focus on the immediate benefits. By maintaining a positive outlook and focus on the steps you are taking to achieve a longer-term goal, such as enjoying the taste of healthy foods, you will have a higher chance of achieving your goals.

Goal setting is the first step in delayed gratification, however, by completely forgoing immediate benefits and enjoyment, these goals can be undermined. Individuals will benefit through rewarding themselves in the process of achieving goals.