Thursday 29 January 2015

The Marshmallow Experiment: Delayed Gratification Key to Success

Delayed gratification is "the choice of limiting the ability to get something now, for the pleasure of being able to have something bigger or better later on." (

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was conducted by Professor Mischel at Stanford University in 1970.  A group of 32 nursery school children, half boys, half girls, served as subjects for the experiment.  They were left alone in a room with a tray full of marshmallows.  They had two choices: they could either eat one marshmallow immediately or wait 15 minutes to eat the marshmallow and be rewarded with a second one.  

Some children, of course, ate the marshmallow immediately.  Others waited, covering their eyes or tugging on their pigtails or even petting the marshmallows, but ultimately giving in to the temptation. A third of the children, however, delayed the immediate gratification and waited the full fifteen minutes, thereby receiving two marshmallows.  

Follow up studies were conducted in 1988, 1990 and 2011, which resulted in the following conclusions about the delayed gratification group:

1.  they were better psychologically adjusted individuals
2.  they were dependable
3.  they were self-motivated
4.  they scored better grades in high school and on SAT exams
5.  they had a more appropriate BMI (Body Mass Index)
6.  they were more financially successful

Professor Mischel proved a distinct link between delayed gratification and success socially, financially and health-wise later in life.  He even used his findings to kick a three pack a day smoking habit.  You can read about the professor's results in his recent book The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control (2014) at .

Like the children in the Stanford study who ate the marshmallow right away, we live in an immediate gratification society.  We want it and we want it now.  The United States credit card debt sits at an astonishing $448 billion.  And yet in my grandfather's time, credit cards were unheard of.  He paid cash for everything.  And he knew how to save his money.  

Brian Tracy points out that saving your money isn't as impossible as you might think.  He quotes George Klasson, the author of The Richest Man in Babylon, who states that if we simply save 10% of our gross income, we will become financially independent.  For instance, if you save $100 a month from age 20 to 65, and reap 10% interest per year on those savings, you will see a healthy return of
$1,100,000 by the time you retire.

The same goes for your health.  North America struggles with the obesity issue today.  Say your goal is to lose 25 pounds.  You say that it's impossible because of your age (forty-something) and your slow metabolism.  Here is a strategy that might work for you.  Cut 100 calories from your diet each day.  Burn 150 calories doing exercise.  That's 250 calories less each day.  Times that by 7 days per week equals 1750 calories.  That's a half a pound a week (a pound equals 3500 calories) which translates into 26 pounds a year.  You've surpassed your goal!

The same goes for your marriage.  According to Fox News, the American divorce rate is 50% (there were twice as many marriages as divorces in 2013).  Divorce is an epidemic.  The easy thing to do when your spouse looks at you the wrong way is to say:  "I'm out of here!"  The difficult thing to do is wait it out, to put your heart and soul into making the marriage work.  Couples who do take the time and effort to save their marriages often end up with a stronger relationship.  

Take Louis Zamperini in the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand at  The Olympian was tortured in a Japanese prisoner of war camp for two and a half years.  In 1946, he married Cynthia Applewhite and she had a child but he couldn't shake his nightmares.  His post traumatic stress led him to binge drinking.  After three years his wife couldn't take it anymore and asked for a divorce.  But she returned to pack her clothes and the neighbour invited her to the Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles.  There, Cynthia gave her life to Christ and returned home to Louis saying she no longer wanted a divorce:  she wanted to work on the marriage. Louis, too, was willing to do anything to save their marriage.  After two night at the Billy Graham crusade, he gave his life to Christ and forgave his torturers.  Now he was able to put his heart and soul into the marriage.  The Zamperinis had a healthy marriage for decades until Louis' wife passed away in 2001.  

No matter what the area of your life, remember the Stanford Study.  Be patient.  Delay gratification. Hold out for the two marshmallows.  They're worth the wait!

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