Being forced to wait for things makes us more successful, says research

October 23, 2013
October 23, 2013

In a world wired for immediacy, patience seems like an echoing virtue from a bygone era. Yet new research shows that a little patience can reinforce the value of something, and perhaps even more importantly, yield even more willingness to wait.

The act of waiting to choose between two options strengthens an individual’s patience and may increase the preference for the “larger-later” choice over the smaller-sooner one. This feedback loop, identified in research by Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Xianchi Dai, an assistant professor of marketing the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was discovered in consumer choices, but also is applicable to work and personal decisions.

“There are big rewards for those who can delay gratification. These people are doing better at school, get better jobs, have more rewarding and stable social relationships and so on. Basically, the research teaches that patience and self-control predict success in life, at least as much as being smart (i.e., cognitive abilities). That’s the big picture,” she said in an interview with Quartz.

“Those who are patient get the larger rewards, thus anything we can do to make people patient will benefit them,” she added.

The research was published in July in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. In one study, participants from a university in Hong Kong were asked to choose between receiving a small box of Godiva chocolates in five or 15 days or a large box that would arrive in 35 or 45 days. After indicating their selection, they evaluated the chocolate and the wait, giving the highest amount they’d be willing to pay to receive the box of chocolates immediately.  “When people wait, it makes them place a higher value on what they’re waiting for, and that higher value makes them more patient,” Fishbach said.

“Five studies support these effects of waiting,” the authors wrote in their academic paper. The reason this works, Fishbach said, is that people learn about themselves the same way they come to understand others, through observation. ” We observe ourselves waiting and learn that we value whatever it is we’re waiting for,” she said.

Fishbach has experience with this: She waited nearly six months for the iPhone 5. Plus,”waiting eight years to become a full professor certainly makes you value the promotion!”

Immediate gratification types can increase their patience with practice. “People can increase their self-control by incorporating waiting periods into their choice. Basically, don’t make your decision right away. Wait for a while and you’ll discover that you’re more patient and can wait even more to get the best option for yourself,” Fishbach said. “Interestingly, even just thinking about how much you’ve been waiting could be enough to increase your patience. “

Follow Vickie Elmer on Twitter @WorkingKindWe welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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