This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of AJATT's patrons!

If you would like to support the continuing production of AJATT content, please consider making a monthly donation through Patreon.

Right there ↑ . Go on. Click on it. Patrons get goodies like early access to content (days, weeks, months and even YEARS before everyone else), mutlimedia stuff and other goodies!

There Is Only Instant Gratification

Instant gratification is the only type of gratification there is. I think. There. I said it. If nothing else, it’s the only type I care to work with. The question, then, is not whether (or not) you’re getting instant gratification, but what you’re going to use as your instant gratification.

If the term “instant gratification” still rubs you the wrong way, then call it “substituted gratification” 1.

Either way, it needs to be instant. We never truly delay gratification — I don’t think we even can — we just substitute it with something else.

Don’t be a hero. Don’t try to delay your gratification. It’s too hard 2. It won’t work. Replace it. Substitute it.

That’s how all those apparently “disciplined” people 3 do it. They, we (if I might be so bold) are not motivated by some nebulous future gain 4. No, we have some other game that we’re playing, some other thing we’re getting off on, some other drug that’s giving us a hit.

Find that other drug.


  1. or “engineered gratification” or “selective gratification”, or “sequenced/scheduled/planned gratification”
  2. Wait, didn’t we just say not two days ago that nothing was too hard? Yes, we did. There is no too hard, there is only too big. So, yeah, it’s not too hard, it’s just too big of a time scale for us to handle.
  3. Like those four-year-olds who don’t eat the marshmallow right away. These kids are usually cited as an example of delayed gratification, but that’s like defining flooded toilets as a form of swimming pool or burglary as a form of home renovation or rape as a form of dating. Oh wait…it is that to some people. No, but…The key fact here is not what the toddlers did but why and how and they did it.

    The 4-year-olds were able to resist the marshmallows. The reason why (according to, IIRC, Seth Godin…or Geoff Colvin…can’t remember which) is because they got themselves to think of something else right now. They rewarded themselves with fun in the now. They were not suffering now for a reward later as delayed gratification zealots would have you believe: they were flooding their minds, hands and time with enough fun that they could ignore the marshmallow at hand. We call this “delay”, but that implies waiting and emptiness and gritting your teeth. No, what these kids were doing is substitution. Replacement. Sequencing. Not delay. Theirs was an active patience. A fun patience.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, future gains exist. But, by themselves, they’re never enough to motivate in the now.

  8 comments for “There Is Only Instant Gratification

  1. Agent J
    January 21, 2013 at 09:51

    If this concept is really universally true then how does it apply to something like school?

    “Oh yeah.. I’ll just do my smaller homework first with full knowledge that I still have to do my bigger homework later”

    I mean it’s still all boring homework, and while you may get the pleasure of finishing smaller assignments quicker in the end it’s all boring work that you dread. So how?

    • kalek
      January 21, 2013 at 11:21

      Break up the assignments into smaller pieces? Tell yourself you only have to do this one (minute, problem, etc.) NOW and then you can go do some other fun thing that you really want to do.

      But here’s the thing, because the bites are so small — the parts are so EASY, homework literally becomes addictive (= instant gratification) to do.

      Kanji reps aren’t inherently fun, but how many times have I accidentally finished mine using tiny chunks? More than I can count.

    • Drewskie
      January 22, 2013 at 04:32

      It’s important to put Khatz’s posts into the context of a self-directed project. When someone’s holding a gun to your head and telling you to work, what motivates your accomplishments isn’t as much fun and rewards as it is potential punishment and high-cost failure. That’s a thesis statement for an entirely different conversation about our school system.

  2. Zomboni
    January 21, 2013 at 18:46

    Wait what, the 4 year olds marshmellow experiment claims the opposite of what Khatz writes here.

    The marshmellow experiment says that delayed gratification is better it makes you a more succesfull adult and that instant gratification makes you less succesfull.

    • aelephant
      January 22, 2013 at 09:28

      You could always instantly gratify yourself for delaying gratification.

      “Great job delaying that gratification there bub!”

    • Zomboni
      January 22, 2013 at 17:18

      Oh look I got an in-article reply!

  3. kai
    March 2, 2013 at 08:17

    Ellen J. Langer, talks about the same thing. The myth of delayed gratification. Her main point was that instead of university students learning by rote memory so they can just get their masters and get out, she suggests they learn by actively thinking looking at what they are being taught from different perspectives. things like thinking of applications for concepts they learn. This is a form of “novelty generation” which is fun. I mean even from a medical, scientific perspective it is more pleasurable because novelty increases the dopamine. So I have been doing as much as I can to increase the novelty in my Hanzi studies taking your advice about making them as interesting as possible so it can’t not be fun.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *