The Marshmallow Test was part of an experiment in the 1960s conducted by Stanford professor Walter Mischel. The experiment was part of a series of psychological studies which followed the lives of selected individuals from childhood to adulthood.
Would you rather get one marshmallow now or wait for a bit and get 2 marshmallows later?
The result of the experiment was to be uncovered years later when the children had all grown up and become adults. It showed the power of choice and the benefits of choosing to delay gratification.
The Marshamallow Experiment
The study was first conducted with children around the ages of 4 to 5. The children were presented with a marshmallow each. They were then told that they had the choice to eat one marshmallow immediately or they can wait for the researcher who brought the marshmallow to come back later and if they did not eat their marshmallow by that time, then they get rewarded with another marshmallow.
Some of the children ate their marshmallows right away as soon as the researcher left, others struggled with themselves and finally succumbed to the temptation of the treat while others waited patiently for the researcher to come back and got rewarded with another marshmallow as a treat. Check out The Marshmallow Test video for more details.
The implications of the choices these children made was demonstrated in their growing up years. Those who waited for a chance to get a second marshmallow also generally performed well in most areas of their lives. They got higher grades in school, responded better to stressful situations, had low inclination for substance abuse and other addictive behavior and had better overall health. Their parents also reported these children as having good social skills.
The Marshmallow Test was just one of the tests during the experiment. Another test was conducted where a researcher gave a group of children a box of crayons and promised to give them a bigger box when they returned later but they didn’t return.
Another group of children were promised to be given bigger crayons and got them. Other items used in the tests were stickers with the same conditions for each of the group of children.
The impact of this experiment is tremendous to the child’s psyche and is useful for parents. In this experiment, the first group who had unreliable experiences learned not to trust the researcher’s promise while the second group learned to view waiting as a positive experience and also trained their minds to wait longer and be more patient. In short, the second group started learning self-control and the benefits of delayed gratification.
This test also showed that the child’s capacity for self-control and the ability for delaying gratification was not an inherent trait but was influenced by their experiences and their environment.
The series of experiments lasted over 40 years until the adult life of the children. The performance of the adults demonstrated even further that being able to delay gratification was a critical factor for success in life.
Mischel and his team have also conducted the test on different parts of the world and the results were universal.
Why Delay Gratification?
This study shows us that even children are capable of self-control and more importantly, that our capacity and ability to make choices are strongly impacted by our environment and the people around us.
Making & Keeping Promises
This is especially important for parents to learn that they are their children’s primary role models and simple behavior such as how they keep or break promises and how they react to the same situations can greatly impact their child’s perception of how to behave towards others and how to act in the same situations. Thus, it is important for parents to show their children how to deal better with negative situations early on in life.
Valuing Long-Term Results
We also learn from this study that our capacity for self-control is only limited by how much we value the reward or the result that waits for us. The higher we see the value of the reward, the more we invest more work into it and the more we are inclined to delay immediate gratification to get the desired reward or result. The lower the perceived value of the reward, the less work we put into it. It is also important to note that the perceived value of the rewards is also influenced by the person/s who promises to fulfill the reward.
Increasing Self Value
With accumulation of more positive experiences from constantly exercising self-control in stressful or decisive situations; we also learn to perceive ourselves as more capable of doing things to achieve our goals. We increase our perception of personal value and we gain more confidence in making even bigger decisions and handling larger responsibilities. In the process, we also learn to value self-discipline as a means to achieve the results we want.
Learn How to Delay Gratification
Most of us adults pride ourselves in our capacity for being able to exercise our self-control. But how in-control are we really? How often do we give in to impulse-buying because an item was on sale? How many times a week do we declare as our “cheat day” and we throw away our healthy eating plan outside the window because the pizza or steak was just too tempting or because a friend was treating us to dinner?
Most of us are guilty of just totally losing ourselves in stressful or tempting situations. The good news is, there are ways in which we can practice and enhance our capacity for self-control and improve our ability for choosing to delay immediate gratification or to choose whichever next action is most favorable for the end result we want. Just like exercise, we need to train our brain muscles for better self-control.
The first step is always a baby step so when introducing a new habit into your lifestyle, start with small goals. If you want to be more productive during the morning, maybe wake up 30 minutes earlier the first week, then try getting up an hour earlier the next week. If you fail at the 30-minute mark, then start again and try for 15 minutes this time. But be sure to do the prep work too, so you better sleep earlier as well.
Break It Down
If you have several goals, then break them down into small actionable steps. For example, if you want to be more productive in the morning, then you need to sleep early and wake up early in order to start work early. List down what you need to do to sleep early such as no watching TV after dinner, making the bedroom more conducive to sleep by getting fluffier pillows and dimming the lights, etc. Do your homework for each requirement and prepare.
Focus on The One
Focus on one thing at a time. Once you have your goals and tasks broken down, pick a task from each goal that you will incorporate into your routine daily. For example, set a time in the evening when you should be getting ready to sleep. If you want to be in bed by 10PM, then start preparing for sleep by 9PM; brush your teeth, wash your face and put on your moisturizer, change into your pajamas, play relaxing music while you do all these, dim the bedroom lights, etc.
When incorporating a new habit, consistency is key to ensure that you adapt the habit seamlessly. So focus on one thing you need to do to achieve your goal each day for a week, then focus on it for another week and so on. Studies show that it takes at least 21 days to learn a new habit so be consistent for at least 3 weeks and by that time, the habit should be so much a part of your routine that you don’t even notice you’re doing it. By then it’s time to introduce the next item on your list.
Change Up & Set a Deadline
Of course, if one method doesn’t work for you, then feel free to change up your strategy until you arrive at one that works for you. Also, it is important that you set a reasonable deadline for achieving your small steps towards your major goal so you can measure your progress which is also reassurance that your efforts are paying off.
Don’t be too hard on yourself though and celebrate each milestone, but don’t go overboard. Stay within your goals. Stay on budget if you have a budget goal! When you’re feeling down, review your goals and remind yourself why you are doing the things you do. Remember what Spiderman’s uncle said to him: “with great power comes great responsibility.”
You may not be out to save the world, but you can save yourself and other people from a lot of heartaches and stress by learning self-discipline and enhancing your capacity to choose to delay immediate gratification for even greater rewards.
The most successful people in the world have mastered the art of delayed gratification. Your ability to practice delayed gratification is a sign of a a high emotional quotient. Your EQ is a determining factor towards your journey to success.