In the 1970s, a professor at Stanford University, Walter Mischel, started a series of research. The studies were centered on the importance of delayed gratification and its impact on an individual. The study was named “The Marshmallow Experiment.”
The research began by bringing each child into a room. After making them sit on a chair, a marshmallow was placed in front of them. The researcher then proceeded to strike a deal with each child. He told them that he was going to leave the room and that the child would be given another marshmallow, but only if he did not eat the first one before he returned to the room.
So the child had to choose between an immediate reward, which was small and a greater reward if only they could wait for a little for it. The researcher would only be absent from the room for only 15 minutes and returned to observe the decision of each child. The child had to make a choice to choose between one treat now or two treats later.
As the kids waited in the room, some of them couldn’t wait any longer. Quite a majority of them jumped on their food and started devouring it. Ignoring what the researcher told them. Others struggled with the urge to eat and tried to refrain themselves. But the majority of these gave in a few minutes later and ate the food. Still, a few of these kids managed to wait until the researcher returned to the room. The exciting part of this experiment for which it became famous years later wasn’t seen immediately.
The Benefits of Delayed Gratification
As the years rolled by, follow up studies were conducted, and surprising facts were discovered about the outcome of these children who participated in the experiment. The studies that followed were conducted to track each child’s progress in several areas of life and correlate it to the initial research conducted.
The children who delayed their gratification and waited for the bigger reward were observed to have higher SAT scores, lower likelihood of obesity, more moderate substance abuse, better behavioral patterns, and responses to stress levels as reported by their parents.
These follow up studies were conducted for more than 40 years. And as many as these studies were performed, the team of researchers were amazed that the children who waited for the second marshmallow succeeded in almost all their life endeavors. This led to the conclusion that delayed gratification is a critical factor for living a successful life.
If you look beyond the experiment, you will see this playing out in almost all spheres of life.
Therefore, moms can teach their children that if they delay the gratification of watching TV or playing games and do their homework instead, they will learn more and earn better grades.
Not just kids alone delayed gratification benefits adults positively too. For instance, if you delay the gratification of buying pizza and ice cream at a local store, you could reap the benefits of eating healthier when you get home. Countless other examples explain how delayed gratification can impact our lives right now and in the future.
Parents who understand the concept of delayed gratification may feel the need to inculcate such principles in their children. If your child can grasp its significance at an early age in life, chances are it can become a part of his behavioral traits as he grows into adulthood.
Children go through different growth process in life. As they do this, they would begin to realise that success is not an easy path for anyone. It usually means choosing the path of discipline, self-respect, focus, and goal mindedness over the path of distraction. This is what delayed gratification is all about.
Research has also shown that the ability to delay gratification is based on one principle, which is “self-control”. This brings us to an interesting question. Were some children destined for success because they have more self-control, or can they develop this trait as they grow?
A team of researchers from the University of Rochester conducted a study where they replicated the marshmallow experiment. At the end of the study, it was discovered that a child’s ability to delay gratification and exercise self-control was not predetermined. Instead, it was influenced by experiences and the surrounding environment as the study revealed that trust played a crucial role in determining a child’s ability to delay gratification.
Learning How to Delay Gratification
One of the primary reasons why the marshmallow experiment became so popular recently is the insightful way it tells the story of success. It has enabled us to understand human behavior and how success can be reached with determination.
So, in reality, it goes beyond placing a plate before a child to test his patience. It explains how discipline and focus (delayed gratification) can make someone succeed at almost anything. If you always choose the easy way over these things, you may get distracted and miss the goal.
If you feel you aren’t good at delaying gratification, you don’t have to worry. There is good news, just like you train your muscles in the gym to become fit; you can prepare yourself to become good at it with little improvements as you make each step worth it. Not just adults, you can train your children to delay gratification and make them realise the fundamental principles of success.
Just like the children used in the research, you too can learn to delay gratification and wait for the greater reward. Although, it might be affected by environmental factors, but when we are assured of the outcome and confident in it, over and over again, our brain will continue to resist the urge to give in at the slightest move. At that point, you will begin to realise why it’s worthy to wait for a greater reward instead of an immediate gratification. More so, you will be able to say to yourself, “yes, I can do it’.