I just finished reading “The Marshmallow Test – Mastering Self-Control” by Dr. Walter Mischel. For those who might be unfamiliar, the original Marshmallow Test was designed by researchers at Stanford University back in the early 1960’s. It involved a series of young children being presented with a marshmallow and given a choice: Eat one marshmallow now, or wait and enjoy two later. What did they do? And what are the implications for their behavior later in life?
The results of the test were both instructive and occasionally quite comical. Using hidden cameras, some children were observed hastily eating the marshmallow immediately after being left alone, while others used a variety of distraction techniques and positive self-talk to avoid the “hot” temptation.
While the original children were all undeniably cute, the now iconic “Marshmallow Test” along with its many years of follow up research with the now grown up participants has proven that the ability to delay gratification is somewhat critical to living a successful life. It turns out that self-control not only predicts things like higher SAT scores, greater financial success, better social and cognitive functioning and a greater sense of self-worth, but it also helps us to manage stress, pursue our goals more effectively and cope with painful emotions.
The book also asks the important question: is willpower prewired, or can it be taught? Thankfully, while willpower may in fact be prewired, Dr. Mischel’s research shows that it also can be both taught and learned. Using self-control techniques as disparate as imagining the tempting desert on the desert cart having been handled by an employee with dirty hands, to picturing the good feelings associated with attaining a weight loss goal, it appears that often it’s a matter of simply avoiding/surviving that moment of “hot” temptation. For as we know, once avoided, most temptations tend to “cool” and pass rather quickly.
The book draws on decades of careful research to explore the nature of willpower, identifying the cognitive skills and mental mechanisms that enable it and showing how these can be applied to challenges in everyday life – from controlling weight to quitting smoking, overcoming heartbreak, making major decisions and planning for retirement.
Paraphrasing the book’s jacket cover blurb – With profound implications for the choices we make in parenting, education, public policy and self-care, “The Marshmallow Test” is a charmingly told scientific story that makes it clear that the test is not just about youngsters, but can be helpful to us all in the “marshmallow” moments we face throughout life.
These comments were provided by our very first guest blogger, Kevin Cannon, who also site on the Family and Consumer Sciences Advisory Committee of Cornell Cooperative Extension. Look forward to more guest bloggers I nthe weeks and months to come, and best wishes for a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving. Until next time, enjoy the family! Denyse and Stefanie