Is intelligence the most important thing that determines our success in life? Possibly! But, in the 1960s a psychology experiment took place that suggested there is another factor which is far more likely to determine our future life course. The experiment was called ‘the marshmallow test’.
In the original study, the researchers were interested in how children could wait to receive a reward. So, a group of four year olds were given a marshmallow and told that if they could wait for about 15 minutes they would receive a second one. As you would expect, many of the kids just popped the marshmallow into their mouth without a second thought. Some struggled and lasted for quite a few minutes before they could resist no longer. And then some managed to wait it out and received their second marshmallow. So some were low-waiters (i.e. they couldn’t wait) and some were high waiters.
If it had ended there it would have been a boring psychology experiment. But many years later, the researchers went back to the children, as they hit their teens and beyond. And what they found was remarkable. The children who were low waiters tended to struggle more in their life. They were poorer academically; they were in worse physical shape, had fewer friends, more behavioural problems and were generally low achievers, compared with the high waiters, who were largely very successful. The biggest difference was that the high waiters were better at distracting themselves. They would find something else to do or think about when waiting. In a nutshell, they had more self-control. So, the biggest attribute that determines our success in life is self-control. If you want to get on in life, strengthen your self-control ‘muscle’ – it really will pay dividends.
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