Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Manage impulsivity and delay gratification

I apologize if this isn't new to you. I'm not necessarily writing anything original with this post. However, I find this to be such a simple, profound observation that I can't let it go, even if it's new for just one reader.

I want to share with you the "Marshmallow Test." I'm familiar with the Marshmallow Test because Daniel Goleman talks about it. Goleman is a leader in the Emotional Intelligence field of study, and it's very informative stuff, in that so-reasonable-it-must-be-true sort of way.

The Marshmallow Test had researchers putting a marshmallow in front of four-year-olds. If the child can wait 20 minutes without consuming it, they get another one. They get a total of two marshmallows. If they eat it before 20, that's it. They're done at one.

This can be seen as a pretty simple measure of these kid's ability to delay gratification. Twenty years later, the researchers show that the kids that had the ability to manage their impulsive desire to eat the marshmallow for twenty minutes did better on a number of measures intended to indicate life success.

Perhaps the lesson is obvious by this point, but let me hit you over the head with it anyway. We're confronted with opportunities to get instant gratification all the time. Buy now, pay next year. Skip the gym. Eat the dessert. Avoid the crucial conversation.

Beyond the results of the test, I think we all know we can challenge ourselves to put the long-term utility of our choices as a bigger priority than our immediate satisfaction.

I'm not saying don't pursue gratification, though it's an option. The lesson I take is that the more we can manage our impulses and make rationale decisions about what and when, the better off we are in the long run.

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