Defer Gratification

Today’s world, driven by social media, has become one of instant thrills.

We’ve all experienced the dopamine rush of a fancy post on Instagram, or a little victory shared on Whats App, or a slew of ‘Likes’ on Facebook.

And it’s spoiling us.

We’ve grown to expect instant rewards – for everything!

That’s not real.

Imagine a farmer sowing seeds today, and plucking out shoots a week or two later – to be disappointed at how tiny his veggies are.

In a powerful psychology experiment from the 1970s, kids around ages 4 to 7 were given two options.

They could eat a delicious marshmallow placed in front of them… right away.

Or… they could wait for 15 minutes before they ate it – and get one more extra marshmallow as a reward.

Researchers watched and recorded the kids’ reactions through a little one-way window.

It was hilarious. You can see a similar experiment here:

Here’s the important conclusion they reached.

Some kids were able to resist the immediate temptation – and won their extra treat.

Others couldn’t, and gave in shortly.

Follow up concluded that the kids who were able to defer gratification were more competent as teenagers, and scored higher on SAT scores.

Putting off the desire to indulge your whims and fancies is a job requirement for doctors.

Feel desperately thirsty and want a drink? Wait!

Badly need to go to the toilet? Wait!

So sleepy you can’t keep your eyes open? Wait!

Tummy growling with hunger, craving a snack? Wait!

And that extends to other areas of your work and career also.

Like how you choose to swot over an entrance exam – instead of chilling with friends at a party.

Or spend time at a patient’s bedside – rather than celebrate a brother or sister’s birthday.

Or toil for months, even years, on a unit – so that you’ll be given more responsibilities once you’ve proven yourself.

In all these examples and more, the easy alternative is more appealing, more fun.

But you can pick them… only at a disproportionately high long term cost.

Like waiting for years to specialize.

Or losing a patient or dealing with medical complications.

Or staying just at a junior level, doing scut work.

In hindsight, these ‘punishments’ are not worth the short-lived ‘joy’ of indulging your impulsive urges.

That’s why it ought to become a practiced habit to…

Defer Gratification.

It isn’t natural.

Or even normal.

For a doctor, though, it’s both.


Have you read Dr.Sivasubramanian’s books on the making of a surgeon yet?

Read the other ‘Desirable Traits for Interns‘ here.

Published by DrSivasubramanian

Paediatric Heart Surgeon and Author - http://www.DrSivasubramanian.com

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