In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a psychology professor at Stanford University named Walter Mischel was frustrated with his inability to quit his three-pack-a-day smoking habit and wanted to study the concept of delayed gratification. Mischel gathered children aged four-to-six in a room, free of any distractions, and placed a single marshmallow on the table in front of each child. The children could eat the treat, but if they waited fifteen minutes while Mischel left the room, they would be rewarded a second.
As soon as the door closed, two out of three children ate their marshmallows. Those who lasted a little bit longer tended to cover their eyes, fidget about, or attempt to distract themselves in other ways like kicking the table. Only a few of the children were able to resist temptation and delay gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.
Years later, Mischel and his team followed up with the same children and found that those who’d grabbed the single marshmallow tended to be more troubled as adults and more likely to use drugs and alcohol. The longer a child delayed gratification, the better he or she fared later in life.
What can we learn from Mischel’s marshmallows? Self-control and discipline are critical to success. The best things in life, especially in recovery, require sacrifice in order to cash in on rewards later on. The good news is that it is possible to learn how to delay gratification. Patience is like a muscle that you can choose to flex or not.
So, when confronted with your own marshmallow dilemma, what are you going to do—take one now, or hold out for the bigger prize?