November 4, 2007

A Marshmallow Study

A common question asked by parents is when should my child start setting goals. This question indicates a complete lack of understanding of what a goal actually is. Goal achieving is something that is, or should, be going on every hour of your life.

Here's a story that will help me explain...

In the 1960s, Psychologist Walter Mischel and his staff wanted to know to what extent the ability to delay immediate gratification might influence later educational and life success. The study involved 400 four-year-olds. Each child was put in a room by themselves with a two-way mirror and filmed. On the table in the room was a marshmallow. The researcher then told each child that, "I've got to leave for about 10 minutes. You can eat this marshmallow now if you want. Or if you wait till I get back, you can have two marshmallows when I get back."

Some of the kids where pretty determined to wait; one child actual licked the table all round the marshmallow but avoided the marshmallow itself. Some could wait a few minutes only. Others gobbled it down immediately.

The researchers continued to track these 400 children throughout their school careers and into early adult life. The results were dramatic. "Those who had deferred eating the marshmallow for 15-20 minutes in order to get the bigger prize just a few minutes later were more socially competent, personally effective, self- assertive and better able to cope with the frustrations of life.

They were less likely to go to pieces, freeze, regress under stress or become rattled and disorganized when pressured. They embraced challenges, and pursued them instead of giving up even in the face of difficulties; they were more self-reliant and confident, trustworthy and dependable; they took initiative and plunged into projects; More than a decade later, they could still delay gratification in the pursuit of their goals."

According to their parents' evaluations, the children who had waited were academically superior, could better put their ideas into words, use and respond to reason, could concentrate better, make plans and follow through on them, were more eager to learn. This simple little marshmallow test of the ability to delay gratification has shown to be a better predictor than IQ what future SAT scores will be. In fact, the kids who could wait just 15-20 minutes scored, on average, 210 points better on their SATs than the "instant gratification" group.

12-14 years LATER. You see, discipline is not factual knowledge... it's who you are. You can't get discipline from a book. Most of those pre- schoolers couldn't read a lick. There is a Chinese proverb that says "If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow."

In The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck writes, "Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life's problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only some discipline we can solve only some problems. With total discipline we can solve all problems." Good advice? You tell me. Sadly, today's society is set up to give us what we want now. We're told at every turn that we deserve more now.

Take it. Don't wait. Screw patience. Does this all mean that if we don't have self-discipline by the age of four, we're doomed to a life of mediocrity and failure? Nope.

You can follow the rest of the story and happening at Think Right Now. Well, I liked the pitch of their marketing campaign. Thats all.

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