Perseverance in an on-demand world

Mr James Keogh, Dean of Studies and Learning Analytics

Our modern world of Internet-connected mobile devices encourages on-demand, instant gratification. However, the development of perseverance in the face of challenge is a trait that is linked to academic, and more broadly, future success. The processes and relationships that support the development of perseverance and delayed gratification are important to allow a balance between outcomes now and for the future.

Our technology is now so advanced that we expect our personal demands to be met in instantaneously. You missed a television show? Don’t worry, you can stream it whenever you want. You heard about a good restaurant? No need to book or plan ahead—have them deliver to you. There’s no one at home with whom to engage in conversation? Reach out to friends at any time through myriad social media apps. However, can all of life be on-demand? Can all of our desires be instantly gratified? In the world of academia, achieving goals is a long-term endeavour. It is a world of perseverance and postponement of the instant for an outcome that will more often than not, only be achieved years in the future. In an increasingly on-demand world it is important that students develop perseverance to learn from mistakes and develop to their full potential.

Instant gratification—the desire to fulfil immediate needs and wishes—has always been in tension with delayed gratification, where immediate satisfaction is put off for the prospect of greater reward at some distant point in the future (Cheng, Shein & Chiou, 2011). This tension has been described and outlined in psychology journals and studies for decades following the marshmallow experiments with preschool students by Walter Mischel in the 1960s (Mischel, 1972), where children were required to choose between receiving a 1¢ candy immediately, or having a 10¢ candy given to them one week later.

However, there seems to be a growing tension with the daily structure of our modern society tending to support the on-demand and instant over the delayed. Paul Roberts (2014) presents the world as being fashioned and re-fashioned in our own image.

We fine tune our moods with…Spotify. We craft our meals around our allergies and our ideologies…we find news outlets that mirror our politics and, create social networks that “likes” everything we say or post. With each transaction and upgrade, each choice and click, life moves closer to us, and the world becomes our world. (Roberts, 2014, p. 19)

Roberts’ thesis of self-gratification through creating a world in our own image concludes with a challenge for the individual and society towards ‘… discipline, deferred gratification, and long-term commitment’(p. 31).

The increase of high-speed quality internet connectivity and the widespread use of mobile devices has promoted the on-demand, instant gratification world. The effects of such devices on academic cognitive functioning is starting to be studied. In a review of existing literature, Wilmer, Sherman and Chien (2017) noted that though results are not conclusive, there is some evidence that mobile use has an impact on cognitive performance through effects on attention, memory, cognitive functioning and delayed gratification. This is supported in the work of Meade (2012) in identifying ‘…social networking and the Internet may serve as a distraction that encourages us to think shallowly rather than deeply, in order to quickly move on to the next topic … all of this in concert reflects the trend toward instant gratification’ (p. 2).

Cognitive growth and development, and related academic outcomes, do not reside within the world of the instant. In fact, the immediate outcomes of academic efforts can often be frustration or disappointment as opposed to gratification. The trait of perseverance, ‘persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success’ (Oxford Dictionary), has been identified as a direct contributor to successful outcomes in academic attainment (Duckworth, Peterson, Mathews & Kelly, 2007).

Perseverance can be called many things: grit; persistence; tenacity; self-discipline; or mental toughness. Regardless of the name, those enacting this trait in their academic work show hope and optimism (Guillan & Laborde, 2014) and other positive emotions toward a task (Lucas, Gratch, Cheng & Marsella, 2015). Additionally, such students are more likely to learn and develop from the occasional negative experiences that occur along their learning pathway; in fact, they are more willing to risk failing or other losses to complete a task or item (Lucas, 2015) in order for a later, greater return.

The returns on delayed gratification through perseverance can be high. The work of Duckworth and Seligman (2005) show such self-discipline has a greater predictive power for final grades than IQ. In a later study, Duckworth also confirmed that ‘…the achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also the sustained and focussed application of talent over time’ (2007, p.1087).

In a world that appears to increasingly favour on-demand instant gratification, building students’ abilities to persevere and delay gratification is important. There are a range of actions that can assist in developing perseverance, such as: regular practice and following a routine; focusing on process over result; setting incremental goals; and exposure to future-focussed messages.

However, a key to the success of all of these is trust. Michaelson, de la Vega, Chatham and Munakata (2013) identify that it takes trust in those delivering the message for a person to forgo the immediate and place themselves in challenging circumstances on the belief of something better later.

Although the world of the instant will not stop, the development of positive trusting relationships, in concert with constructive future-focussed messages, can help students accept and persevere through challenges. As significant adults in young people’s lives, parents and teachers have the power to help the young people in our care to see beyond the lure of the immediate and to find a balance between seeking outcomes now and striving for future goals.




Cheng, P., Shein, P & Chiou, W. (2011). Escaping the impulse to immediate gratification: the prospect concept promotes a future-oriented mindset, prompting an inclination towards delayed gratification. British Journal of Psychology, August 2011.

Duckworth, A. and Seligman, M. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance. Psychological Science, 16:12. 939-944.

Duckworth, A., Peterson, C, Mathews, M. and Kelly, D. (2007). Grit: Perserverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92:6, 1087-1101.

Guillen, F. and Laborde, S. (2014). Higher-order structure of mental toughness and the analysis of latent mean differences between athletes from 34 disciplines and non-athletes. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 60, 30-34.

Lucas, G., Gratch, J., Cheng, L. and Marsella, S. (2015). When the going gets tough: grit predicts costly perseverance Journal of Research in Personality, Vol.59, 15-22.

Meade, T (2012). I want it now: do new media affect ability to delay gratification? Accessed: 28 April 2018

Michaelson, L., de la Vega, A., Chatham, C., and Munakata, Y. (2013). Delaying gratification depends on social trust. Frontiers in Psychology, 19 June 2013.

Mischel,W., Ebbesen,E., Raskoff, Z. (1972). Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay gratification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 21:2, 204-218.

Oxford Dictionaries Online,, Accessed: 28 April 2018.

Roberts, P. (2014). Instant Gratification, The American Scholar, Autumn 2014, 18-31

Wilmer, H., Sherman, L. and Chien, J. (2017). Smartphones and cognition: A review of Rresearch exploring the links between mobile technology habits and cognitive functioning. Frontiers in Psychology, 8:605, April 2017.



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