In the early 1970's, Stanford University Professor of Psychology Walter Mischel created a simple test for 4 year olds, that has had long a lasting influence, continuous follow-ups, and revealing consequences.
Professor Mischel came into a class of these pre-kindergarten children and asked this simple question. "I am going to put a delicious Marshmallow on your desk. I will be back in 15 minutes. If you haven't eaten your Marshmallow, I will give you another Marshmallow. If you eat yours, you won't get a second one."
Want to venture a guess what percentage of the children ate their marshmallow? Fifteen minutes doesn't seem like a long time to wait, but imagine if you needed a cup of coffee and I said I will bring you a hot steaming cup with all the fixings exactly the way you like your coffee, but it's going to take 2 hours. Now you have a better sense of what waiting the 15 minutes meant for the 4 year olds.
Two out of every three 4 year olds ate their Marshmallow. Some gobbled it down as soon as the teacher left. Some tried to lick it, nibble it and eventually the taste overwhelmed them and they ate theirs. The ones that didn't, distracted themselves so as not to focus on the Marshmallow. They looked around the room, some covered their eyes, and a couple pushed the Marshmallow to the end of the desk so it wasn't as available. Some even played a game under their desks to keep busy and be distracted. In effect they taught themselves self control so they could delay the gratification.
Professor Mischel realized at the time that 1/3rd taught themselves restraint, patience, self-control, grit and long term flexible thinking. He wondered what it may mean to all those 4 year olds later in life.
The same kids were retested and evaluated 10 years later and they had much higher SAT test grades and better academic records as teenagers. It proved that delaying gratification WAS a big deal. The kids with control were much more able to regulate their emotions and interacted better with others. They were much more able to come to school and concentrate on academics. They hardly put themselves in a position to resist urges; they simply avoided them in the first place. They seemed to know by instinct that patience was truly a virtue that helped living life with restraint is rewarded.
I call it the "take a walk around the block" technique. As a quick aside, I once had an employee who was asked to stay late for work because his printing job was ruined by the guy on the cutting machine. The printer was so angry because he was late for a date and had to stay to reprint the job, he went after the guy who made the error. Our skinny old manager wrapped his arms around the mad-as-hell printer and begged him to take a walk around the block because he couldn't stop the printer, but he begged for a cooling off time. In 15 minutes the printer came back crying his eyes out saying, "I'll be willing to bet that at least half of the guys in jail are there because someone didn't have the ability to get them to walk around the block before they committed a violent act." Self-discipline is the key! Patience truly is a virtue!
The group of four year olds were also followed and interviewed as they approached 19 years of age. 100% of all who had not eaten the Marshmallow were successful. They had better grades and were never in trouble. The story is quite different for the other group. They had a myriad of problems: Drinking, drugs, broken engagements, loss of jobs, family problems and several other even worse problems.
I believe in the many books that have been written about "The Don't Eat the Marshmallow Story." The author's takeaways are usually overlapping. Most talk about how important it is for parents to teach their children: Patience, Self-Control, Restraint (cooling off), and not to live so impulsively.
I cannot point to a specific current scientific study, but I personally have faith in the younger generation. They seem more compassionate, more colorblind and more curious about technology than their grandparents and parents. So our future is looking up.
About Author / Additional Info:
I am a former CEO of two publicly traded companies who is retired and I love to write about OUTRAGEOUS situations.