The Marshmallow Experiment

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Full Transcript

[The following is the full transcript of this Vlog: “Marshmallow Experiment”

NIEL MALAN:  Hey everybody welcome back to another addition of our weekly blog.  Have you ever wished that you had more self-discipline, have you ever kind of fantasized that if you had this ironclad willpower that you’d be able to achieve so much more in life and in business.  Well the real question we should be asking our self is how important is willpower and how important is self-discipline really.

In the next five videos I’m doing a series of… I guess information titbits on how to improve and strengthen your willpower on how to achieve more faster.  So let’s deal with the first question, how important is willpower and how important is self-discipline really in the big swing of things.  Well there was a psychologist with the name of Walter Mischel that worked at Stanford in the 1960’s and he got curious about this whole issue.  He kind of started asking himself you know these psychologists and scientists they’re always running experiments with people right.

I should have become a social scientist I would have loved it and he got this question in his mind the people that have strong willpower and strong self-discipline would they really really fair better in life so the only way to do it is to set up what’s called a longitudinal study.  And a longitudinal study is where you get a certain amount of kind of subject I guess people that you study and you track them over a very long period of time.  So Walter Mischel and his research assistants set up the famous Marshmallow Experiment and the Marshmallow Experiment was very, very simple.  They took a group of kids aged between four and six years old they put them in the room and they told them that they’re going to put a marshmallow in front of them and give it fifteen minutes and if they’ve still not eaten the marshmallow they will get a second marshmallow all they had to do is wait fifteen minutes.  So what they did to these poor tormented children is they put these marshmallows in front of them and they came back within fifteen minutes, after fifteen minutes and they kind of tracked who just gave in.

So obviously they had cameras all over the place and what they did is they found that very few children just immediately ate it, most tried to delay gratification so probably eighty percent of them or ninety percent of them at least tried to delay gratification.  However what they found is only a third of the kids who tried to delay gratification actually succeeded and this was only for fifteen minutes right.  So what they did  is they tracked and followed all these children there were six hundred kids in total that they tested and that they did these experiments with and what they found they published a study in 1972 what they found is that these kids had higher SAT scores, they had lower levels of substance abuse, they had lower chances of obesity, they earned more, they generally advanced in their careers faster, they stayed married for longer, they had better well-adjusted children and what these guys did is they actually hit goal they found one of the very very few distinctive characteristics of high performing people and they found that people that had the ability to delay gratification as children and they had the… had this willpower did significantly better in life.  Now here’s a million dollar question is self-discipline hardwired, is it something that you can do something about or is it something that is changeable.  Now for many many years people believed that the human brain was hardwired right it was the machine wiring mechanism or paradigm rather of psychology where they said listen your brain is wired a certain way if you start off not having self-discipline you’ll end not having self-discipline.  Well what happened is some people dusted off these old… these old experiments that were done in the sixties and seventies and eighties they continued with it, what they… they decided to take another look at the video footage right and to try and figure out the kids that were able to delay why were they able to delay and what they found was that there’s all sorts of strategies that these kids who delayed gratification deployed and that’s actually what causes them to be able to do it, it was not necessarily only a matter of willpower.  So very very interesting I read this book called Switch by two brothers Dan and Chip Heath and what these guys did is they did a deep dive into this whole area of self-discipline and willpower and they tried to decode it, they tried to decode it for people that wanted to have more of it to say here’s how to get it.  And here’s what they found, they found that self-discipline really comprises of kind of three different aspects right it’s not only this white knuckle ironclad willpower that we think that self-discipline is all about.

What they found is that there’s three components to it the first is, and what they did is they created a very cool analogy right they said imagine there’s a rider that’s riding an elephant right and they’re walking down a path so there’s basically three things that they have to work together, there’s the riders, there’s the elephant and there’s the path right to achieve an objective.  So the rider is symbolic for our cognitive function right this is our left brain our pre-frontal cortex how we think, how we set strategy, how we do things.  The second part is the elephant and the elephant is our emotional centre and the third part is the path and the path has to do with our environment right and the analogy that they use is actually quite clever they say imagine there’s this rider sitting on an elephant and he’s trying to make this elephant walk in a certain direction and this elephant will have none of it right, this rider can do whatever they want to this elephant is not going to budge.  What they’re trying to say there is if there’s a difference between your head and your heart, if there’s difference your mind and your emotions there’s absolutely no way that you will succeed at anything long-term.  So for example if your head is saying yes to this weight loss program but emotionally, your emotions perceive it as painful or its difficult or its hard or undesirable there’s no ways that you will be able to sustain will power for longer than about three weeks which is more or less the amount it takes most people to have [sconed 00:06:31] in their dreams.

The path is quite an interesting one where they, where they were saying well imagine this rider gets this elephant to move but this path is just riddled with fallen down trees and rivers and canyons they would not be able to go where they would want to go as well.  And what this basically says is that your environment that’s set up, the way your environment is set up for any kind of a self-discipline challenge makes a huge difference.  If you’re a dieter and you’re trying to diet and you have people around you eating sweets and cookies and your favourite domino foods, do you know what you’ll only be able to resist temptation for a very short period of time and you won’t succeed long-term.  So the environment is as important as the emotions and the rider coming back to some of the strategies for the rider the mental component to this whole thing is some of the things there is very… is being very very specific you know they were saying that one of the big problems here is most people are not specific enough in what they want to achieve and they take on too much you know the task is too big and overwhelming.  So in our next blog, in our next weekly blog I’m going to start delving into each one of these different aspects and to just give you some ideas and some advice on how to create a lasting change, I’ve become fascinated with this whole idea of lasting change you know being a very ambitious person and being an achiever and wanting to  get ahead in life I found that in certain aspects of my life I would set goals and not follow through I’d start and then stop again so I actually made a real science out of this whole thing of lasting change.

I’m looking forward to sharing that with you.  For now what I want you to go and do possibly pick up this book by Dan and Chip Heath it’s called Switch and just consider any kind of a change that you want to make, consider your mind and your emotions and your environment and possibly you’ll be on a better, on a better foot to achieve lasting change.  Have an amazing week I’ll see you in the next video.

By |2019-02-05T13:21:40+00:00March 10th, 2017|Categories: Business Coaching| Comments

About the Author:

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Niel has worked with and studied some of the top sales and marketing professionals in the world like Jay Abraham (the USA’s highest paid marketing consultant) and Tony Robbins (the well-known personal development guru.)