The Most Important (And Difficult) Skill You Can Acquire

Michael Loren

Good things come to those who wait. We have all heard this phrase a million times. But, do we actually apply it to our lives? If you don’t, you should. The ability to delay gratification can make you successful in practically every part of your life. And, if you are one of the people in the world that is naturally able to wait, that trait is a pretty good indicator that you’ll be successful.

Photo by Leon Seibert on Unsplash

Many of us have heard about the marshmallow experiment. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick rundown. Kids were given a marshmallow and told that they may eat the marshmallow now or they can wait for a few minutes and then they will get two. The person running the experiment leaves the room and comes back a few minutes later. If the kid didn’t eat the marshmallow, they’re rewarded with a second.

Seems simple, right? Well, not completely. A more recent version of the marshmallow experiment correlates the ability to delay gratification with the mother’s level of education and incorporates many other factors, but at the end of the day, (according to Psychology Today), “ . . . basic impulse control, after correcting for environmental factors and given the right context, may turn out to be a big predictor of future success”.

If you can wait, you can win. I like this idea. Do you know why? Waiting doesn’t require an IQ over 140 or a rich family or the perfect face or any other thing that society says we should have to be successful. To be successful, according to these experiments, the only thing we need is . . . patience.

There are so many parts of our lives that can be enhanced by the ability to wait. Waiting can make you thinner, richer, and smarter and it makes the rewards for our patience oh-so-much sweeter. Let’s look at each one of these three aspects individually.


(I love this book by Stephen King, by the way). How could waiting possibly make you thinner? Well, we all have to eat. But, what if you waited just a little longer each day to eat? What if you could have just a little patience and be able to delay the gratification that your favorite chocolate would give you? Even if it were for only one hour? Well, let’s break it down.

Let’s say that you eat an average of 2,000 calories per day and that 100 of those calories are your favorite nighttime chocolate treat. You consume a total of 730,000 calories per year (I know, I know — just stick with me here). If there are a total of 8,760 hours in a year and you eat 100 calories for every 24 of those hours, you’d eat a total of 36,500 calories per year in chocolate.

However, if you ate 100 calories every 23 hours, you’d only eat 34,979 calories in a year. Since one pound equals about 3,500 calories and the difference between 36,500 and 34,979 is 1,521, you would lose 1/3 of a pound every year. Just by delaying your chocolate eating for one hour!

You can look at this so many ways from a food standpoint. You can wait to drink alcohol until after 9 pm so that you end up having fewer cocktails in the evening. You could use your patience to fast until lunchtime. You could wait to eat meat until the weekend.

The thing about waiting in relation to dieting is that so many diets say you can’t have different types of food. If I eat this gummy worm, it will drag me out of ketosis or you can never have white bread until you die. That doesn’t seem to me to be a fun way to live.

I think that food is meant to be enjoyed. And, if you’re willing to recognize what kind of foods aren’t that good for you, you can change the timeline on which you eat them. I, for instance, am waiting to have my lunchtime tomato soup until 12:30 even though I want it right now. I’m practicing delaying gratification. Hopefully, this will spill over onto other parts of my life as well.


If you have not experienced the magic of compounding interest, let me tell you that it is truly astounding. The fact that $100 invested monthly can grow to over half of a million dollars in 50 years is, well, magic. However, it takes a lot of patience to let that money grow. If you take it out early, that magic bunny crawls right back into that hat.

Let’s take this example. If you’re 20 years old and you invest 100 per month into, let’s say the S&P 500 at a 7 percent interest rate, you’ll have $51,140 when you’re 40. If you wait until you’re 70, you’ll have $506,241. Half of a million bucks. And you would have only put in $60,000 of your money to get that. Now, THAT is magic.

With any investment, in general, the longer you leave your money in one place, the more money you make. So many people try to “play the market” and ride the sexy stocks that they think are going to make them billions. And sometimes they do make billions. But, slow and steady usually wins the race.

If you’re willing to put your money SOMEWHERE (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.) and leave it there for as long as possible, you will reap the rewards. “But Michelle, I might die before I’m 70 years old!” Yeppers. You might. You also might die from the stress of not knowing how you’re going to make money when you retire.


“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”. —Theodore Roosevelt

I’m a chatty person and I will admit that I’m not the best listener in the world. Why am I not the best listener? Because I’m usually waiting until the other person stops talking to get in my two cents. I want to speak as quickly as possible before I forget what I was saying. (I know it’s not the best tactic — I’m working on it).

Yes, waiting to speak will make you smarter. But not just waiting for your turn to speak. Actually waiting, digesting, comprehending, and listening will make you smarter. The National Academy of Sciences did a study on the average amount of time between responses in conversations around the world. The average? A CRAZY fast 200 milliseconds. That’s not even enough time for a syllable!

This means that, because it takes us an average of 600 milliseconds to retrieve a word from our brains, we MUST be thinking of our responses to people while they’re talking to us. But SHOULD we? The answer is not really.

Listening doesn’t just require listening to words. It incorporates tone of voice, body language, and cadence (amongst other things). If we can wait to formulate our responses just a few hundred more milliseconds, we will get significantly more information than if we didn’t. And then, we will be able to formulate more informed and intelligent responses.

Patience is so important for so many reasons in so many parts of our lives and has been a trait of so many great leaders. Gandhi tirelessly worked for thirty years for a free India. Nelson Mandela suffered for almost 30 years in prison. What if they didn’t have patience? Our world would be a different place.

I can’t tell you what to do with your life, but I can confidently say that good things truly do come to those who wait.

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Professional writer and journalist with concentration in data analysis. I specialize in interpreting data to give you unbiased, understandable information related to the state of California.

Los Angeles, CA

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