Self-control: The key to success?
About forty years ago, Psychologist Walter Mischel from Stanford conducted this experiment with four-year olds testing their ability to demonstrate self-control. The experiment called for the child to be alone in the room with a marshmallow on a plate with the promise of an additional marshmallow if they can wait for 15 minutes. On the other hand, the child would forfeit the additional marshmallow if they rang a bell. (This post is inspired by a great article in The New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer.)
Most of the kids participating could wait about three minutes, while some waited the entire fifteen minutes and some as soon as the researcher left the room. So here is the kicker, Mischel decides to follow up with the children that participated in the experiment some forty years later to see how they are doing and
“Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.”
“Mischel argues that intelligence is largely at the mercy of self-control: even the smartest kids still need to do their homework. “What we’re really measuring with the marshmallows isn’t will power or self-control,” Mischel says. “It’s much more important than that. This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”
What I like about this article is that it puts to rest this notion that being smart is the key to success when in fact, the ability to see things through is more important. The results Mischel lays out are more predictive than raw IQ scores. And then I thought about how I am now and whether or not I would have been able to wait out for the other marshmallow. I doubt that I would have been able to wait the entire fifteen minutes. Shoot, I sometimes, can barely wait to go back for another chocolate pudding. ☺
I wonder though what examples from adulthood could be applied now that would speak to one’s ability to demonstrate self-control. I have a list of ideas that I want to talk over with Dr. Mischel.
-An adult’s ability to drink one glass of juice (especially) if the container is relatively full) and not go for another glass until they are actually thirsty.
-An adult’s ability to refrain from sexual intercourse.
-An adult’s ability to complete multi-year commitments (e.g. grad/professional school, overseas assignments, etc.)
The list could go and on but let me ask the broader SuperSpade community whether they are confident that based on who they are now, do they think they would be able wait for the second marshmallow. Are you pleased with your level of self-control? How has your level of self-control helped or hurt you in your personal and/or professional life?
And please believe that when I have kids, we will be practicing the marshmallow experiment. Stay up fam,