What do marshmallows and productivity have in common?

It depends… would you like one or two of them?

In the Marshmallow Test kids were given a difficult task – get a marshmallow now or get two marshmallows later (in 15 minutes). The longer kids were able to wait or delay gratification the better they turned out in school, academia, and life in general.

Resisting gratification or self-control are, in fact, key in many areas of your life. A lot of the stupid decisions you make come from the allure of shiny new items and impulse purchases that scratch your instant gratification need.  Keeping those impulses in check can save you a lot of cash and get you to spend more time on the things that matter.

The book about marshmallows

The Marshmallow Test is often boasted as a fundamental self-help book. Yes, self-control is vital for success, but is The Marshmallow Test the best book to learn it from?

The Marshmallow Test: "Self-control is crucial for the successful pursuit of long-term goals.", Walter Mischel
An excellent book to kick-start your growth! (the image is from Amazon.com)

As I mentioned, the Marshmallow Test was a Stanford experiment led by psychologist Walter Mischel. It tested the ability of children to delay rewards (aka wait). Improving your self-control is a great thing to invest some time into and the book is a great start.

Walter and his colleagues discovered that children’s self-control is a major factor to their future development. In addition, the book goes through how you can improve your own self-control.

Here’s what the book is about in a nutshell:

  1. Analyzing how self-control works (the author, Walter, is a psychologist so the science is comprehensive)
  2. Analyzing the effects of self-control on children’s future (hint: better self-control = better future)
  3. Exploring ways to improve your own self-control

Why do you need more self-control

Imagine you had perfect self-control. What would your life look like?

  • Do you have a wife and kids?
  • Are you extremely wealthy?
  • Is your body athletic?
  • Do you know 5 languages?
  • Did you finally learn the guitar?

Yeah, you’d be worth a million bucks. All men and women will want to be with you. You’ll be spending your Friday mornings picking in which of your yachts you should play golf.

Of course, you don’t need, nay, you don’t want perfect self-control. You’d become a robot. But what about better self-control? What about just one yacht to play golf in? Or just getting better in the things you want?

Enter the marshmallow test.

The marshmallow test

What is the marshmallow test?

Great question, thanks for asking! The marshmallow test or “The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment” is a simple way to evaluate self-control.

The test consisted of young children being offered a choice:

  • A small reward (not surprisingly a marshmallow and sometimes a cookie or a pretzel)
  • Two small rewards (with a catch)

The kids obviously wanted the two marshmallows, but there was a catch. They had to wait for the researcher to come back for 15 minutes. Small kid, sweet treat, and an otherwise empty room, you can guess what happened.

I bet you laughed at those minions suffering… eh well, I did. You obviously are a better person than I am.

Now, imagine this:

  • You’ve just got your salary today
  • There is a new iPhone out (or any another shiny item you want)
  • You really should save money to buy a place to live (or another good investment)

Exactly the same image as those kids!

The marshmallow test found that children (and people) who can wait longer do better in life. The more you are in control and able to delay gratification, the better you fare in life. Better self-control leads to better grades, education, weight, and wealth.

How to improve your self-control

I really can’t go into too much detail without making this post enormously long, so I’ll just list some of the methods described in the book.

Walter’s techniques to improve your self-control:

  • Reframe your urges. Kids who were told to imagine the marshmallows as puffs of cloud were much more successful. Kids who were told to think about the sweetness coped the worst.
    Note: You can use this in the reverse direction, as well. Take smoking, for example, next time you’re having a smoke focus on the (hopefully) bad taste on your tongue.
  • Distract yourself. Although distractions a disaster while you’re working, they can be very helpful while you want to resist temptation.
  • Visualize the future. People who see digitally aged photographs of themselves save more. The same goes for any long-term decision that’ll benefit your future. I visualize old Jordan every time I start procrastinating too much.

Should you buy The Marshmallow Test?

Yes. I highly recommend it.

So, I hope I managed to convince you that:

Self-control is key to self-development. You will go far if you improve it!Click To Tweet

Is The Marshmallow Test the only book that can help you with that? No. But, as the progenitor of most of what we know about self-control, it’s a hell of a good start!

Should you get it? Yes, I believe it’s worth your time.

Get the marshmallow test » Get the Marshmallow Test on Amazon [Paperback or eBook]

Don’t have time to read? Listen to it on the way to work in your car!Get the marshmallow test in audio format » Get the Marshmallow Test on Audible [Audiobook]

So, how many marshmallows would you like?

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