I’m sure you’ve heard about The Marshmallow Test at least once in your life.
A professor named Walter Mischel at Stanford University created The Marshmallow Test in the 1960’s as a simple, yet effective, psychological experiment about the power of delayed gratification and how critical it is for life-long success.
“Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction. And that’s exactly what delayed gratification is all about.”
The experiment was as follows:
- Children were sat in a room with a marshmallow on the table in front of them
- The researcher offered each child a deal:
If the child didn’t eat the marshmallow while the researcher left the room for a short period of time, the child would then be rewarded with a second marshmallow when the researcher returned; If the child ate the marshmallow while the researcher left the room, he/she would not receive a second marshmallow when the researcher returned
- “One treat now or two treats later”
Researchers followed some of the children through the next couple of decades and found that the children who were willing to delay gratification in The Marshmallow Test had:
- higher SAT scores
- lower levels of substance abuse
- a lower likelihood of obesity
- better responses to stress
- better social skills
I am confident that I would’ve failed this experiment 100% when I was young, maybe even now. More often than not, my actions favor immediate gratification rather than delayed gratification. Did I develop this habit growing up? Or was I just born wired this way?
Although I don’t know exactly how, I do know that this is a habit that developed over time – most likely by subconsciously learning from my parents. Even if I were just “wired this way”, we know the brain is plastic and, therefore, has the ability to learn, change, and adapt.
I still have quite a bit of trouble with immediate gratification and I desperately need to become more aware of when I start thinking in terms of immediate versus delayed gratification. If I’ve learned anything on the subject, it is that immediate gratification lasts an extremely short time, with feelings of regret and disappointment usually following.
How I can train my ability to delay gratification:
- Start small
“Make your new habit so easy you can’t say no.”
- Make improvements and gains by 1%
“In the beginning, there is basically no difference between making a choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse. But as time goes on, these small improvements or declines compound and you suddenly find a very big gap between people who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and those who don’t.”
- Maintain consistency
Pick a task that is meaningful enough to make a difference, but simple enough that you can achieve it everyday. As you achieve this simple task everyday, mark the days off on a calendar and aim for “not breaking the chain.”
“So often, we assume that excellence requires a monumental effort and that our lofty goals demand incredible doses of willpower and motivation. But really, all we need is dedication to small, manageable tasks. Mastery follows consistency.”
- Two-minute rule
Nearly every habit that you aim to conquer can be scaled down into many two-minute versions:
*Read before bed each night becomes read one page
*Fold the laundry becomes fold a shirt
*Run a mile becomes tie my running shoes
Now, we just need to get started…