The Marshmallow Test - Deepstash

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Avoid the temptation

If you're trying to quit smoking, surrounding yourself with smokers will inevitably drain your willpower and make you more likely to have a cigarette.

  • "This is the reason why, even if you have resolutions about how many potato chips you're going to eat, once you open the bag, it's so hard to not empty it.
  • It's because they taste good," he says. "Once you're focusing on that — rather than the long-term issues of cholesterol and obesity — it's incredibly hard to stop."


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Distract yourself

daydreaming or distracting yourself — instead of directly thinking about the temptation — is a way of quelling the sort of "hot" thinking that leads to giving in.

  • This, too, can be useful to adolescents and adults as well as five-year-olds, regardless of the temptation at hand.


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Mentally transform your temptation

Simply transforming the desired object inside your brain affects your response to it — and how much willpower it will require to abstain.

  • An adult might not be as easily persuaded that a tempting item is simply a picture, but it can be transformed in plenty of other ways.
  • "For instance, instead of a drug being a fantastic high, pretend it's a poison," Mischel says. "How you think about it makes a huge difference in cooling your desire for it."


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Create an "if-then" plan

"The lesson that comes out of that is that very simple "if-then" plans work," Mischel says.

  • For instance, 'If the alarm rings at 7:00, then I will get out of bed — I won't hit snooze. If I am working on a homework assignment, then I will turn off my phone.'


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Minimize stress

Many different experiments have shown that, both in kids and adults, high levels of stress increase the chance we'll give in to short-term "hot" impulses instead of prioritizing long-term "cool" thinking.

  • fMRI studies have also shown that stress affects the prefrontal cortex — the region most heavily involved in long-term thinking — more detrimentally than any other area of the brain.


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Self-control is more important than you realize

Being able to choose two marshmallows later instead of one marshmallow now turns out to be crucial in navigating many of life's biggest challenges.

  • "The stuff needed to delay gratification on the marshmallow test — namely, executive function — is exactly what's needed for school success," Mischel says.
  • Kids who have that are "ready to learn, to focus on the teacher, to concentrate, to not become distracted, to keep the goal in mind."


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But self-control isn't a fixed trait

"For me, the marshmallow test is not an indicator that our futures are already determined when we're four years old, but that our potential for maximizing our lives involves a set of skills that are already visible and teachable at age four," Mischel says.

  • "[It] involves a set of skills that can be taught, and learned. They're acquirable. Nothing is predetermined."


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Learning is best done by doing.


7 main lessons from "the marshmallow test"

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