Of Marshmallows and Millionaires

Back in 1968, Walter Mischel, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, initiated an experiment, the results of which are still being studied today. In the experiment, Mischel offered children a marshmallow. And if, instead of eating the marshmallow right away, the child waited while Mischel left the room and returned 15 minutes later, he or she would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. What do you think happened?

Seven out of ten children could not resist the sugary treat and gobbled it up before Mischel’s scheduled return. The average elapsed time between the sound of the door closing behind Mischel to that first bite of the marshmallow was less than three minutes. Some children couldn’t wait past 30 seconds.

Normal childhood behavior? Maybe. But very telling behavior. See, for over 35 years Mischel and his associates have been following the lives of the children in the original experiment and the dozens of experiments that followed. Over the years they’ve discovered that the children who were able to delay gratification tested better in school, were more socially adept, had higher levels of self-worth, were better able to cope with stressful situations, graduated college at a higher rate and now earn higher incomes compared to the children who couldn’t wait to bite into that first marshmallow.

If this were the end of it, we’d have a good story with a good moral: the best things in life are worth waiting for. But there’s more to it. Seems there’s a large group of participants who couldn’t wait for that second marshmallow, who are now succeeding really well as adults. They were able to change their behavior patterns and control how they react to the world around them.

And that’s what the children, who successfully held off until the researcher returned, were able to do. They took control of their environment. How they did this will sound familiar if you’ve read my most recent posts on fear – What are you afraid of? and Lets-take-another-look-at-fear. The children used distraction techniques like singing songs, playing games, or simply closing their eyes. They put their focus everywhere but the marshmallow.

There’s more …

When the children who couldn’t wait 30 seconds were taught to reframe their reality – “see” the marshmallow as a picture of a marshmallow or even as a cloud – they were able to go the full 15 minutes with ease.

So where are we going with all this? We could conclude that if you want to be a millionaire, don’t eat the marshmallow. But the results of these studies are much more profound. They tell us that self-control is a key element to success and that we can control how we react to every situation we encounter. We don’t have to be victims of circumstance..

Control the fear (and all things negative) by reframing how you see it or by avoiding even the thought of it. Keep yourself from giving up by seeing a setback as an opportunity to learn from; and then move forward. Love the hard work now by seeing it as the path to the wealth and freedom you dream of. Focus on the prize and you can easily justify the cost of achieving it.

Remember – get honest with yourself. See the world as it is: Here’s where I am. This is what I know. This is what I gotta learn to get where I want to be.

Then – see the world better than it is. Create your vision and the strategy to getting there. Don’t let the bullshit stories of “why you can’t get what you want” stop you.

All the best,




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