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What does eating marshmallows and retirement saving have in common? Good parenting, coaching and teaching strategies to focus on things other than marshmallows.
by Pete Ferguson
I've always been drawn to understanding connection between psychology and success. Today I was reminded of the Marshmallow Test originated by Walter Mischel, Stanford professor of psychology. The study is fairly simple, put a four-year-old in a room, place a marshmallow on the table in front of them and tell them they can eat the one marshmallow now, or wait and have two later and then leave the room and observe.
Don't think about pink elephants.
Seemingly simple - seemingly a bit innocuous - but as Mischel followed the lives of the four-year-olds, the study became very telling and even a precursor to predicting how the children who could resist eating the one marshmallow would do on their SAT scores and even later in life - their behaviors in saving for retirement.
What, then, determined self-control? Mischel’s conclusion, based on hundreds of hours of observation, was that the crucial skill was the “strategic allocation of attention.” Instead of getting obsessed with the marshmallow—the “hot stimulus”—the patient children distracted themselves by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek underneath the desk, or singing songs from “Sesame Street.” Their desire wasn’t defeated—it was merely forgotten.
Apparently, our ability to focus on something besides marshmallows is very telling in how well we can accomplish our goals.
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