Marshmallows and delayed gratification

When psychologists study and isolate the personal qualities that predict positive outcomes in life, they constantly find two traits: intelligence and self-control.  Intelligence is a hard one to define and to study.  However, self-control is a concept that has been studied extensively and we as humans have the ability to improve our self-control.  Many studies and experiments have been conducted around self-control.  The most recognized research on delayed gratification and self-control was the famous “Marshmallow Test”.  This experiment was conducted on four-year olds and went like this:

A four-year old would be brought into a room one at a time.  The researchers would show the child a marshmallow, and offer them a deal before leaving them alone in the room.  The children could eat the marshmallow whenever they wanted to, but if they held off until the experimenter returned, they would get a second marshmallow to eat along with it.  Some children gobbled the marshmallow right away; others tried resisting but couldn’t hold out; some managed to wait out the fifteen minutes for the bigger reward.  The ones who succeeded tended to do so by distracting themselves.

Years later they tracked down hundreds of the participants of this study and learned some interesting data.  The researchers found that the participants of the study that failed to wait to eat the marshmallow seemed to get in more trouble both in and out of school.  They found that the ones who showed the willpower and self-control to delay gratification  at four years of age went on to get better grades and test scores later in life. The also had higher salaries in their jobs, got a long better with peers and managers and they had a lower body mass index.

These results from the experiment was the first of its kind to show how childhood tendencies could predict how a person could turn out as an adult.

Most problems in life center around self-control.  Compulsive spending and borrowing, impulsive violence, under achievement in school, procrastination at work, alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, chronic anxiety, explosive anger, all of these destructive activities are centered around a person having the ability to control themselves. As willpower is depleted we lose our self-control.  Willpower is like a muscle and can become fatigued and strengthened through exercise.  To build up the muscle of willpower we must learn to have self-control over everything in our life.

How do we manage our self-control?  

The first step in self-control is to be sure you have a clear goal in mind.  To manage self-control researchers use a term called self-regulation.  Which is to regulate to certain standards that you set for yourself.  You must know what your standards and goals are to accomplish change and have the willpower to make changes in your life you wish to make.

Exercising self-control and delayed gratification in one area of life leads to improvement in other areas of your life.  Do you want the really nice fancy dinner tonight?  Or do you want to save the money so you can pay off your student loans or your car.  Do you want the purse or shoes today?  Or do you want to save the money so you can invest in your retirement?  Do you like the taste of the dessert so much that your willing to allow it to keep you from hitting your desired weight and size?

What is an area of your life where you are lacking self-control?  What are some goals and standards you can set for yourself to regulate and achieve these goals that you have been putting off?

To your success and your future.

Notes from the book:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength; WILLPOWER; authors: Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney.







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