Why Winners Wait

Courtesy of Twenteen Something

Have you heard about the "marshmallow test" for kids?

First conducted by American psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s, the experiment involved putting four-year olds in a room with a marshmallow on a plate, and testing how long they could endure before popping that sweet morsel into their mouths. In the test, the toddlers were told that those who could wait till the experimenter returned (15 minutes or so) without snagging that marshmallow could enjoy two instead.

As you can see from a reproduction of the experiment below, it sure ain't easy for the tiny tots!

What's interesting about the experiment were the follow up studies conducted decades later. Apparently, the kids who were able to resist temptation performed better academically (higher SAT scores), had stronger relationships, and were deemed to be more successful in their careers.

Also known as a test of delayed gratification - the ability to put off the receipt of a reward in order to gain a better reward later - the study revealed that people who exert greater self-control, discipline and perseverance tend to do better in life.

According to psychologists, the ability to control one's impulses and delay gratification constitute what is known as an executive function. This capability is controlled by the frontal lobe of our brain and manages behaviour, strategic thinking, and long term decisions with the aim of maintaining and achieving goals. Those who demonstrate a lack of executive function in their brains are usually less able to sustain an activity to achieve long-term success in their lives.

As the above shows, controlling one's animal urges can reap significant rewards.

For a start, you are able to restrain yourself from wasting your life away in excessive indulgences that do not add value to life. These include anything from gossiping, over-eating, non-stop television watching, obsessive-compulsive Facebook checking, to endless computer gaming.

Exercising restraint further fortifies your resolve when the going gets tough. Folks who can stick to the narrow path can overcome the waves of temptation which life throws in their direction. They are able to face adversity with a smile on their face, and weather the storms.

Delaying gratification is good for your pocket. It helps you to think rationally and coolly before splashing your cash on material distractions that you don't really desire. Eventually, these savings can be invested in something that you truly value.

What's more, self-control is great for relationships. Time and time again, we see that the impatient and impetuous man is the one who gets into fights and quarrels with the people around him.

Moreover, escaping from one's primitive reptilian urges allows experience and enjoy the finer things in life. These deeper pleasures include reading a good book, appreciating works of art at a museum, savouring fine cuisine at a gourmet restaurant, or immersing oneself in a musical.

Finally, delayed gratification is great for one's career. Those who can dominate their distractions are often able to concentrate on complex and abstract subjects. They can focus their energies on long-term projects, persevere through challenges at work, and see an initiative to its completion.

Now that we know the value of delayed gratification, how do we resist the siren calls of temptation?

The first thing we should do is to flee situations that may cause us to compromise our cause. Excuse yourself from gatherings where you know unhealthy food will be served if you're on a diet, visit the library to read if you're unable to resist your king-sized divan, and go for a walk if you feel like punching somebody in the face.

Next, we should pick up hobbies that develop single-minded doggedness. These can be anything from sewing/knitting, model aircraft making, to marathon running and cross-country skiing.

We can also look for opportunities to get together and rally like-minded others in a challenging long-term endeavour. These kindred spirits can be project mates at school or work, friends belonging to the same mountain climbing club, or family members who have the same values as us.   

In a world which beckons endlessly to us with countless channels of digital distractions, it pays to delay. Steeling yourself for the long road ahead will be difficult and even counter-intuitive. However, it pays lasting dividends in school, at work, and in life.

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