Sunscreen, Salaries, and Seedlings: Here Are 8 Little Ways to Embrace Delayed Gratification

published Jun 7, 2022
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There’s a famous psychological experiment you may remember learning about in school: A researcher offers a child a choice between eating one marshmallow right now, or waiting 15 minutes and getting two marshmallows instead. The Stanford marshmallow experiment, as the 1970s study is known, explored the concept of delayed gratification, or the ability to resist an immediate temptation for some longer-term benefit.

And while the marshmallow experiment is a super literal test of delayed gratification in a lab, everyone experiences the subtle tension between now versus later in their daily lives: whether to buy a new dress or put the money into savings, or whether to plop down on the couch or hit the gym.

If you’ve got an eye toward setting yourself up for success in the future, you can take many small steps now that will lead to big payoffs later. From skincare to finances, here are some easy ways to embrace delayed gratification in your daily life today and improve your situation down the line. Oh, and by the way, your future self says thank you. 


Boost Your Salary

Though it can be awkward to ask your boss for a raise (or negotiate with a new employer for a higher starting salary), a little temporary discomfort right now can be fruitful for your finances in the end, says Lindsey Bell, chief markets and money strategist at Ally

Especially in today’s job market, you have more negotiating power than you may realize and boosting your salary in the early part of your career will snowball into more and more money as you progress through your career, Bell says.

“Your starting salary will determine the trajectory of your salary growth over your career,” she says. “While you can catch up later, it’s best to start strong early.”

Invest Your Money

With confusing acronyms like 401(k) and IRA, it’s easy enough to zone out when anyone starts talking about saving for retirement. But don’t overlook this alphabet soup: The earlier you start saving, the better (thanks, compound interest!). 

“Investing for retirement may seem like a light-year away, but there are significant benefits to starting to save for the goal sooner,” Bell says. And once you’ve got your 401(k) or other retirement plan maxed out, set your sights on dumping money into a separate investment account as well, she advises. Though you may be tempted to spend every paycheck you get or keep it in a standard savings account (where you can easily access it for shopping sprees later), resist the urge and open a brokerage account instead. The money will grow at a faster rate, but you can still access it for big purchases and investments down the line.

“This is a good way to save for goals that are at least five years away, but closer than 45 years away,” she says. “Growing your money in the stock market before buying a house or some other goal can be better than letting cash sit in a savings account earning minimal interest for 10 years.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Nutrition and Sustainability

Plant a Garden

Sure, you need to do some hard work now (tilling the soil, pulling weeds, etc.), but planting a garden — even a tiny one — can pay off in spades later. You’ll literally be eating the fruits of your labor at the end of the season and you’ll likely develop a greater appreciation for the farmers and other professionals who grow your food, which makes you a more mindful consumer in the long run.

“Planting early in the year if you are starting from seed is best,” says Chris Starkus, a chef, beekeeper, gardener, and sustainability advocate in Colorado. “You will truly understand and have a deep respect for the food when you plant a tomato seed in February and finally eat the fruit in late July or August if all goes well.” Plus, he adds, “You will become a better eater when you eat from your garden.”

Keep Bees

If your space allows for it, get into beekeeping — not only will you have delicious honey to eat or share with friends and neighbors, but you’ll also be doing the earth a favor. Bees are pollinators, so they’re a hugely important part of many ecosystems and they (along with other pollinators) are responsible for roughly one-third of the food we eat. 

Though there are startup costs and a learning curve when you start out, this hobby more than pays for itself over the years, Starkus says. “When you become a beekeeper, your bees’ success depends on the environment around you and you will therefore find yourself paying closer attention to it,” he says.

Keeping bees can also help you be more connected to your community, he says: “I have not had anyone turn down local raw honey yet.”

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Skincare and Health

Wear Sunscreen

It only takes a few minutes, but putting on sunscreen somehow always feels like a struggle. Take this oft-touted advice and run with it so that your skin stays in tip-top shape as you age, recommends Morgan Covington, an M.D. and board-certified dermatologist with Westlake Dermatology in Round Rock, Texas. And while you’re at it, slap on a hat and lightweight, long-sleeved clothes if you’ll be spending a lot of time outside.

“Starting sunscreen in your 20s — or even earlier — has so many benefits,” she says. “By getting in the habit of applying SPF 30 or higher as a part of your daily skincare routine, you are helping your future self by preventing signs of sun damage and skin cancers later in life. Many signs of premature aging, like wrinkles and sunspots, can be prevented or delayed by early and diligent skin protection.” 

Apply Retinoids 

If the idea of getting Botox to stave off wrinkles as you age just isn’t your thing, then retinoids are your best friend. Develop a relationship with a trusted dermatologist, then discuss a skincare plan that’s right for you, ideally involving prescription-strength retinoids. They’re stronger than over-the-counter retinols and, though they may cause some flaking and irritation today, they’re one of the best defenses against wrinkles and other signs of aging in the long term, Covington says. (They’re also useful for fighting off acne, too.)


Learn to Play a Musical Instrument

Maybe you never took your violin home in middle school to practice, so eventually you stopped playing altogether. And though learning a musical instrument as an adult does require a commitment on your part, the potential benefits outweigh the hassle, says Alissa Musto, a professional musician and piano teacher based in Tampa, Florida.

Once you learn, you’ll quickly become the life of any party or campfire (depending on the instrument) and it’s a great way to keep your brain sharp as you age. You may also want to join a band or a musical group, which can help you meet new people and be social. Plus, music is just good for the soul, whether you’re listening or playing.

“The ability to play an instrument is a skill and hobby that will carry with you throughout the course of your life, unlike sports or more physically demanding activities, which become less sustainable as the body ages,” she says.

Master a New Language

The Spanish or French you learned in high school is probably a little rusty by now, and that’s OK. You can take baby steps to learn a new language now, with the eventual goal of being relatively fluent in the future, which could come in handy for everything from travel to volunteering. Language-learning platforms like Duolingo and Memrise make it easy to incorporate a few words or phrases at a time, so it doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming as you slowly improve your speaking and writing skills. Learning a new word each day, taking a language lesson each week, or allotting a few minutes on a regular basis to speak only in a foreign tongue can ladder up to feeling fluent in a new language over time — and can open open up so many exciting conversations and opportunities for gratification in the future.