Prep for Success - Master Delayed Gratification

Prep for Success - Master Delayed Gratification
More than fifty years ago researchers posed a dilemma to a group of preschoolers at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School. They presented the youngsters with an array of treats and told them they could have one cookie (or marshmallow, pretzel etc) now. But if they were able to wait, alone for about 20 minutes, they could have two treats instead of one.

From this experiment, the researchers discovered something amazing when they followed up with the children at age 27-32. Those who were able to wait for the greater reward during the “Marshmallow Test” as pre-schoolers, as adults they coped better with stress and frustration, were more successful at pursuing goals and had a lower body mass index than those who could not wait the 20 minutes. Further when the researchers did brain scans (in areas linked to obesity and addictions) of the test participants at mid-life, they found distinct differences between those who could delay gratification and those who could not.

Renowned psychologist Walter Mischel, designer of the now famous “Marshmallow Test,” and author of the book The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success says “the ability to delay gratification and resist temptations has been a fundamental challenge since the dawn of civilization.” Everyone wants to know how will power works and how to get more of it.

According to Mischel, delayed gratification is a skill that can be learned.“The basic idea that drove my work and motivated me to write this book was my belief, and the findings, that the ability to delay immediate gratification for the sake of future consequences is an acquirable cognitive skill,” writes Mischel.

Distract Yourself

Mischel found that successful delayers know how to distract themselves while they are waiting for what they want. Distractions took the “struggle” out of willpower.

Change the Way You Think

During the Marshmallow Test, if children were cued to think of the “cool” aspects of the the treat they were able to wait longer. For example, the cool aspects of a marshmallow is that it is small, round and white. However, if the treat was described as chewy, sweet and delicious, which are the “hot” appealing features, the children found it more difficult to wait.

“The power is not in the stimulus, however,” writes Mischel, “but in how it is mentally appraised.” So if a dieter can control the mental representation of off limit foods, they can perhaps exert more self-control and not be at the mercy of “hot” stimuli.

Watch a few TV commercials and you’ll notice that advertising professionals know very well how to tap into that “hot” stimuli. In real life, pizza and fast food hamburgers do not look nearly as mouthwatering as they do on TV, yet we flock to devour them because of the advertised representation of the products. When I am trying to resist temptation, I make sure I don’t watch commercials.

Create an Implementation Plan

To resist a “hot” temptation, you have to replace the Go!” response with an emphatic No!. What you need is what Mischel calls a “link” between the hot stimuli and the No! response. First, you specify the hot stimuli. For me right now my hot temptations are the Breyers Cookies & Cream in the freezer and my social networks (particularly Pinterest) that are just a click away.

So my job is to link my temptations with the appropriate response. “If my daughter chooses to have a small bowl of ice cream as a snack, then I will have an apple and a handful of pretzels.” And regarding my social networks the link can go something like, “If all of my work is done by 7 pm, I will be free to spend time on Pintrest and the new fan fiction I started last night.”

When you create and follow through on these If-Then implementation plans you train yourself to respond a specific way when faced with temptation. With practice you form a habit and according to Mischel, “when If-Then plans are established they work well in surprisingly diverse settings, with different populations and age groups, and they can help people more effectively achieve difficult goals—goals they previously thought they could not reach.”

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This content was written by Leah Mullen. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Leah Mullen for details.