My mother is a bit of a health nut. When we were growing up we weren’t allowed sugar. Except at parties. I’d generally treat those like a Roman orgy. I’d eat until I vomited and if no one was looking I’d start again. Hopefully your kids are nothing like I was but could what they do with a marshmallow predict their future success? That’s what a famous Stanford study suggests.
Researchers gave a bunch of five-year olds a marshmallow. They were told that they could eat the marshmallow straight away but if they waited for fifteen minutes they would get a second. The question: Could five year olds delay gratification.
Think about how critical delaying gratification is is to success. We save money now so that we can have more in the future. We say no to the cream bun so that we can have a smaller bum. We give up trying to win an argument because in the long term a happy marriage is so much more satisfying.
Success depends on the ability to trade short-term pleasure for long.
Some kids just gulp the marshmallow down. Those generally make a stop in Juvie. Just kidding but “I want it all and I want it now” is not a recipe for success. Left alone and assuming that no one can see, some kids lick the marshmallow. Which is fine except when it tastes so good they have to back for another lick and then a nibble until only half the marshmallow is left. When the researcher comes back they say: “See it’s still there!” Those kids usually become politicians.
Others turn their back on the marshmallow. Which is really smart. If you’re recovering alcoholic you don’t hang out in a bar. You remove yourself form the source of temptation, or at least your sightline. A few whistle, soothing themselves from the pain of that excruciating wait.
The researchers followed up with the kids as adults. Those who were able to hold themselves back from that second marshmallow did better academically, had higher qualifications, better jobs and even better body weight and health.
Now, if your kids gulp down the marshmallow without waiting, you do not have to put them up for adoption. There is hope. Look at me!
Here is how to help them — and you – delay gratification:
1) Focus on the long-term pleasure of achieving your goal rather than the short-term pain.
2) Later research showed that kids who did not expect to get a second marshmallow due to an earlier broken promise were far less likely to delay gratification. This suggests the importance of parenting that provides clear and reliable rewards and punishments. Stick to your promises.
So — don’t eat the marshmallow — at least not straight away!
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Justin Cohen is a professional speaker and author of four books & seven audiobooks. As a leading authority on human potential, with a postgraduate degree in Psychology, Justin Cohen speaks and trains internationally in the fields of motivation, sales, service and leadership. He has presented in nearly twenty countries, and in virtually every industry to an average of 10 000 people annually. Justin is a Certified Speaking Professional and a Southern African Speaker Hall of Fame inductee. For more go to: