Willpower Is Key To Success

There was a child, a marshmallow, a closed room, and a promise.

This was an experiment a couple of decades ago where a researcher curious about willpower brought a child into a room. A marshmallow was placed on a table. The researcher stated he would have to leave the room, but he would return in 15 minutes. The child could eat the marshmallow, but if the child did not eat the marshmallow, then he/she would get two marshmallows upon the return of the researcher.

Some ate the marshmallow. Some didn’t.

A follow up on as many of the children as they could find after some 20+ years revealed that the children with the willpower to delay gratification were generally more successful in life than those lacking that one strength.

Daniel Goleman writes about this research in one chapter of his latest book, Focus. It turns out that willpower is more effective a predictor of a young child’s (ages 4-6) success in life than is social class or IQ.

How did the children who succeeded in resisting the temptation do it? They diverted their minds. Those whose thoughts dwelled on the marshmallow, ate it. Those who started singing a song to themselves, or talking to themselves, or played make-believe–in other words, those who diverted their thoughts from the marshmallow–were able to resist it.

Two takeaways.

If you are a parent or grandparent or otherwise can influence a child. Teach them to divert their thoughts to something else instead of continuing to focus on the errant behavior.

Or, for you…when your thoughts start to focus on something you’d rather not think about–be it that donut that is now staring at me as I write this or some worry or anxiety–start to think about something else. The willpower lies in intentionally (yesterday’s topic) choosing to think about something different from the negative thought. I first noticed that I did this myself over 40 years ago. I testify that it works.

Help a kid. Help yourself. Learn how to develop some willpower.

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