THE MARSHMALLOW TEST, PART 2: PUTTING YOUR MIND ON SELF-CONTROL

Though the marshmallow test was taken by 4-year-olds, other research into willpower focused on adults.
The research was highlighted in the book, “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control,” by Walter Mischel, and discussed in a Feb. 15, 2015, column in The Tennessean newspaper of Nashville by Gregg Steinberg, professor of human performance at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee and author of “Full Throttle.”
Steinberg suggested several ways to improve one’s willpower. In the first, he advises to focus on the future. Many of us only think about today, and how we can be instantly gratified. The world moves quickly, and the advancement of the Internet and social media gives us instant results.
That can be good and bad. It’s good that we can get information instantly, but not so good if your employer reorganizes frequently and costs you a job.
This instantaneous world requires us to think about the future, because it has become so unpredictable. So, if you want to work until you want to retire, it may not happen. Expect your “retirement” to come sooner than you want, and expect that you probably won’t know when it’s coming.
That means that while you have a paycheck, put some of it away where you can’t touch it, and where you can watch it grow. It will help cushion that unexpected retirement.
Steinberg also advises to give yourself rewards. When you accomplish a goal, treat yourself. He quotes an example of hungry students. One group was given cookies and candy, the other radishes. They were asked to solve unsolvable anagrams. The ones who ate the sweets were better able to stay on task, since chocolate is more fun to eat than radishes.
Of course, part of having willpower is frequently avoiding sweet treats. But if you do something good, it’s OK to celebrate, briefly.
Finally, Steinberg says self-control is a mind-set. He quotes a study of students at final exam time. He says the students who believed their willpower was limitless did better than those who believed the opposite.
In sum, those of us with futuristic thoughts, who give ourselves periodic rewards for doing good and who put our minds to it will have good willpower.
If you are having trouble coming up with a Plan B, in case your Plan A fails you in the future, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau. Perhaps if you see the good in there, your thoughts of the future will turn to dreams.
So celebrate appropriately. Learn to believe that waiting for something good is not only possible, but desirable.
Know where you want to be, and perhaps what you want to be doing 10, 15 or 20 years hence. Then, work toward that end. You may hit some bumps along the way, but your strong mind can guide you toward your own solutions.
Have the will. Find the way. Don’t be easily tempted to stray. The journey often is more fun than the destination. Press on with care and patience.
Peter

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