The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel

ONE MARSHMALLOW OR TWO?

“What the preschoolers did as they tried to keep waiting, and how they did or didn’t manage to delay gratification, unexpectedly turned out to predict much about their future lives. […] At age 27-32, those who had waited longer during the Marshmallow Test in preschool had a lower body mass index and a better sense of self-worth, pursued their goals more effectively, and coped more adaptively with frustration and stress.” – Walter Mischel
Now that’s some powerful concept – by demonstrating the ability to delay gratification, they up end doing much better than their counterparts. This really got me thinking of just how powerful psychology is, how little I know about this realm, and just how awesome it would be to be able to help myself and others reach much bigger goals.

HOT VS. COOL

“The power is not in the stimulus, however, but in how it is mentally appraised: if you change how you think about it, its impact on what you feel and do changes…” – Walter Mischel
So the idea here is to somehow cool down your thoughts on the instant gratification and really heat up the thoughts on the long term gratification. Just how exactly can we create that environment, I don’t know.

YOU NOW VS YOUR FUTURE

“If you see more continuity between yourself now and yourself in the future, you probably put more value on delayed rewards and less value on immediate rewards and are less impatient than people who view their future selves as strangers.” – Walter Mischel
Mischel found that when people are asked to imagine themselves 10 years from now, those who couldn’t actually do it (brain waves show the same thing as when they were asked to imagine a stranger), were a lot more likely to go after the instant satisfaction than those who were able to visualize themselves. He did a study asking 20 year olds how much they would save in their 401k (RRSP for us Canadians). Those who were given an image of themselves at the age of 68 saved a lot more than those who were given a picture of themselves now. This is a really powerful actionable idea – if you can show people a picture of themselves a decade (or 6) out based off very specific habits, you could potentially help them change.

THOUGHTS ARE POWERFUL

“At Stanford University, Carol Dweck and her colleagues found that those who believed that their stamina fueled itself after tough mental exertion did not show diminished self-control after a depleting exercise. In contrast, those who believed that their energy was depleted after a strenuous experience did show diminished self-control and had to rest to refuel.” – Walter Mischel
Given this study, I’m wondering how we could get ourselves (or others) to fundamentally believe that our stamina will fuel itself…

CONDITIONING YOUR MIND

““In life, employing If-Then implementation plans has helped adults and children control their own behavior more successfully than they had imagined possible. If we have these well-rehearsed plans in place, the self-control response will become automatically triggered by the stimulus to which it is connected.” – Walter Mischel
We all subconsciously know what would happen if you let yourself get near a fridge when you’re hungry, or what would happen if you have an alarm set. However, if we can write down what we would like to happen (if I’m hungry and I go near the fridge, I will….) and continue to practice / rehearse that, eventually, we will subconsciously be able to execute.
I’ve noticed this myself – I used to reach for a bagel every morning at work. But kept telling myself to go for the nuts instead. At first it was hard, but eventually, I just went after the nuts and the bagels don’t tempt me.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT DELAYING GRATIFICATION

“But I can’t end this discussion without reiterating: a life lived with too much delay of gratification can be as sad as one without enough of it. The biggest challenge for all of us — not just for the child — may be to figure out when to wait for more marshmallows and when to ring the bell and enjoy them. But unless we learn to develop the ability to wait, we don’t have the choice.” – Walter Mischel
I think this is a really important thing to also think about. Don’t be so caught up in imagining the results of your delayed gratification that you completely disregard your current self. However, like Mischel has said, unless we learn to develop the ABILITY to wait, we don’t have the choice. This is particularly important now that our expectations is to get things instantly.

CAN I REALLY CHANGE

“If that leads to the question ‘But can I really change?,” I reply with what George Kelly said to his therapy clients when they kept asking him if they could get control of their lives. He looked straight into their eyes and said, ‘Would you like to?’” – Walter Mischel
Reading this gives me shivers, and those who know me, know that I don’t ever get shivers reading something.

My Take Aways

The Marshmallow Test has opened up the realm of psychology for me. Up till now, I was more interested in optimizing myself (well that’s still true), but now I feel like part of this journey is to understand human psychology so my interactions with people become much smoother. I also wonder how I would react to the marshmallow test as a child. In fact, I wonder if I would start saving more in my RRSP (401k for the Americans reading this) if I were to get an image of myself (given the fact that I invest what I invest now) at the age of 68.

I’d love to dig deeper into this. There’s just so much I haven’t internalized in this book that it would just be a wealth of information for me. If you’re also thinking the same, you can get The Marshmallow Test at Amazon (please note that I will be getting a small amount from Amazon, though it does not affect how much you pay – Amazon just makes less money than if you were to go onto the website yourself). I also suggest you check out the actual Philosopher’s Notes (note they even have courses that consolidate many of the concepts in the books that Brian Joshnson covers and puts them into videos that are really easy to digest). This is the first program that I’ve signed up for and am definitely getting my money’s worth!

Are there any other psychology books that you suggest I look at?

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