Courtesy of Healthland.Time
Have you heard of the “marshmallow test” for kids?
First conducted by American psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s, the experiment involved putting four-year olds in a room with a marshmallow on a plate, and testing how long they could endure before popping that sweet morsel into their mouths.
In the test, the toddlers were told that those who could wait till the experimenter returned (15 minutes or so) without snagging that marshmallow could enjoy two instead.
As you can see from a more recent replication of the experiment below, it sure ain’t easy for these tiny tots!
What’s interesting about the experiment were the follow up studies conducted decades later.
Apparently, the kids who were able to resist temptation performed better academically (higher SAT scores), had stronger relationships, and were deemed to be more successful in their careers. Their family and social lives as adults also fared better than their more impulsive peers.
Also known as a test of delayed gratification – the ability to put off the receipt of a reward in order to gain a better reward later – the study revealed that people who can exert greater self-control, discipline and perseverance tend to do better in life.
According to psychologists, the ability to control one’s impulses and delay gratification constitute what is known as an executive function.
This capability is controlled by the frontal lobe of our brain. It manages behaviours, strategic thinking, and long term decisions with the aim of maintaining and achieving goals.
Those who lack executive function in their brains are usually less able to sustain an activity. Their powers of concentration are lower than those with executive function, and they are less likely to finish what they started.
The end result is that such “impulsive marshmallow eaters” are usually less able to achieve long-term success in their lives.
As the above shows, controlling one’s animal urges can help one to reap significant rewards. There are four main benefits that I can see here.
For a start, you are able to restrain yourself from wasting your life away in mindless indulgences that do not add value to life.
They include anything from gossiping, over-eating, non-stop television watching, obsessive-compulsive Facebook checking, to endless computer gaming.
When less time is spend in pointless pleasures, great works of endeavour can be accomplished.
Exercising restraint further fortifies your resolve when the going gets tough.
Folks who can stick to the narrow path can overcome the trials and tribulations which life inevitably throws in their direction. They are able to face adversity with a smile on their face, and weather the storms which may come their way.
Delaying gratification is also good for your pocket. It helps you to think rationally and coolly before splashing your cash on material distractions that you don’t really desire.
Eventually, these savings can be invested in something that you truly value.
What’s more, self-control is great for relationships. Time and time again, we see that the impatient and impetuous man is the one who gets into fights and quarrels with the people around him.
Escaping from one’s primitive reptilian urges also allows experience and enjoy the finer things in life.
These deeper pleasures include reading a good book, appreciating works of art at a museum, savouring fine cuisine at a gourmet restaurant, or immersing oneself in a musical.
Finally, delayed gratification is great for one’s career.
Those who can dominate their distractions are often able to concentrate on complex and abstract subjects. They can focus their energies on long-term projects, persevere through challenges at work, and see an initiative to its completion.
Now that we know the value of delayed gratification, how do we resist the siren calls and overcome these temptations?
The first thing we should do is to flee situations that may cause us to compromise our cause.
Excuse yourself from gatherings where you know unhealthy food will be served if you’re on a diet, visit the library to read if you’re unable to resist your king-sized divan, and go for a walk if you feel like punching somebody in the face.
Next, we should pick up hobbies that develop single-minded doggedness. These can be anything from sewing/knitting, model aircraft making, to marathon running and cross-country skiing.
We can also look for opportunities to get together and rally like-minded others in a challenging long-term endeavour.
These kindred spirits can be project mates at school or work, friends belonging to the same mountain climbing club, or family members who have the same values as us.
In a world which beckons endlessly to us with countless channels of digital distractions, it pays to delay. Steeling yourself for the long road ahead will be difficult and even counter-intuitive. However, it pays lasting dividends in school, at work, and in life.
Tags: adversity quotient, behavioural economics, delayed gratification, life coaching, life lessons, marshmallow experiment, overcoming temptation, personal management, psychology, resilience, walter mischel