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The Marshmellow Experiment

In the late 1960s, researchers at Stanford University created an experiment to zone in on the way a child acts and if and how these actions reflect the choices they make later in life.

The Experiment: To start off, the researchers took each individual child and sat them down in a room by themselves. They then took a particular snack, commonly a marshmallow, but sometimes a cookie or other treat, and they placed this snack in front of the child. Before leaving the room, they made it very clear that the child had two options while they were alone.

The first option was to eat the snack whenever they liked with absolutely no consequences whatsoever (this, of course, causing the child to perk his or her ears up). But the second option was to wait for fifteen minutes while the researcher was out of the room and not eat the treat, and in reward for waiting, the child would then be able to have two treats instead of one. No consequences for eating the first, but a more substantial reward for waiting for a short period. The researchers made sure the rules were apparent and then proceeded to leave the room.

The Results: As you may imagine, during these fifteen minutes, some of the kids ate their marshmallow immediately, others tried to wait but ended up giving into temptation, and a select few were able to pause the entire fifteen minutes without eating their snack. Now here’s where things get interesting.

The researchers then followed up with these children multiple times throughout their lifetime and analyzed a few different key areas of their lives. The shocking results found that in general, the individuals who waited the entire fifteen minutes for two snacks were described as being more competent by their parents, had higher SAT scores, had lower Body Mass Indexes, and more.

So why does this matter?

This experiment shows the power of being able to practice delayed gratification. It shows us that patience combined with willpower is a skill set that will take you far in life. But why is this? Plain and simple, the things worth achieving take time, and they all come with a ton of obstacles along the way.

With anything worth doing, there will always be things tempting you along the way that can and probably will slow down the process. You want to get that summer body? Those cookies (that probably taste amazing at the moment) will make it harder to do so in the long-term. You want to gain confidence in social situations? It may feel good to stay home every night of the week, but if you’re going to grow, you’ll need to get out and be uncomfortable. You want to build a successful business?

You’re going to, unfortunately, have to avoid a lot of daily time wasters that you may have once had. With whatever you’re trying to succeed in, there will always be things that will test your willpower along the way, and still, things that you may need to learn to avoid.

When we look at these marshmallows (or cookies or brownies), we need to see them as they are: instant pleasures. And although they may seem extremely tempting in the present moment, we have to keep our end goal in mind and to let our ambition drown out the noise of the temptations. Yes, it will probably taste delicious to have that marshmallow right now. But in fifteen minutes, how good is eating two marshmallows going to taste? And not only that but how good is it going to feel knowing that you resisted those temptations for those 15 minutes?

So I have to ask, where are the marshmallows in your life right now? What things are you struggling to avoid, and how can you practice delayed gratification with these marshmallows to take you closer to where you want to be in life? Now is the time to think, analyze, and start receiving daily action steps to create the experience that you want.

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