Advance Performance | The Marshmallow Test – Mastering Self Control
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The Marshmallow Test – Mastering Self Control

The Marshmallow Test – Mastering Self Control

“It’s really not about candy. The studies are about achievement situations and what influences a child to reach his or her choice.”


“The Marshmallow Test” began in the early 1960s at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School, where Walter Mischel and his graduate students gave children the choice between one reward (such as a marshmallow or pretzel) they could eat immediately, or they could choose to wait alone for up to twenty minutes to win the bigger reward of two marshmallows.

The test itself explored delay gratification and the self coping strategies which the children used to delay their treat.  However, when the children were followed up as adults, the researchers found surprising results.  The children with higher delay gratification times achieved higher SAT scores, a lower Body Mass Index, and achieved more success in their careers and relationships than the “Instant Gratifiers”.

Walter Mischel and his teams of graduate students have been studying delay gratification and its self control coping strategies for fifty years.  His book The Marshmallow Test – Mastering Self Control is the first time he has drawn together all the different findings for the general public to read.  The findings of Mischel’s research are far deeper and extensive than this original test.

The self control coping strategies described in detail in the book include various visualisation and distraction techniques which empowered the children to delay gratification, but there are also techniques which can be used in adulthood to enable individuals to pursue long term goals in education, career and personal lives.  If you have been on our Peak Performance course, you will know the power of visualisation in building the dendrites in your brain.  This neurological evidence is explored extensively from different research within Mischel’s book, explaining the areas of the brain which develop as a result of different kinds of choices and motivation.

Another fascinating strategy explored by Mischel in older children and adults is pursuing a goal using the technique of Current and Future Self.  Mischel and his researchers have found that if an individual can relate emotionally to their future self, their motivation and willpower to achieve a goal is increased.  Self control is also higher for someone who concentrates on their future goal achievement rather than instant gratification.  These visualisation techniques and affirmations are features you will be familiar with from your Advance courses and proven scientifically their effectiveness.

The book considers “Willpower Fatigue” in successful individuals who have shown extraordinary willpower in sports practice and achievement in politics, but may become drug or gambling addicts or cannot remain faithful in a relationship.  This section explores the reasons for different motivation which adds clarity to understanding how different people succeed in different areas in life but may struggle in others.

Mischel’s whole psychological discussions and research are very positive in the empowerment of choice in motivation and goal achievement.  He refers to neuroscientific developments in the plasticity of the brain which show that our brains are constantly changing and developing – therefore our future is malleable.  We are not fixed stereotypes and we can build up our Psychological Immune System by developing our self control, resilience and self esteem.

Research in neuroscience and psychology has proved that we have far more influence over our future by our choices, motivation, and willpower over our self control. We are the masters of our behaviour and of our lives! Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the choices we are making?