Wouldn’t it be great if you were better able to cope with frustration and stress?
Would you like to have a better sense of self-worth?
How would you like to excel at effectively realizing your goals?
According to Walter Mischel in his book, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control, you can have all that by learning to cool the present and heat the future!
In case you haven’t heard of this study, it goes like this: Mischel conducted a test with preschoolers to examine their ability for self-control. He then followed up with them about 25 years later to see how they were faring.
He used a number of temptations for the preschoolers, but the one that gets the most attention is the marshmallow. In those studies, each child was placed alone in a room with one marshmallow on the table ahead of him. The child was told that he could eat the marshmallow if he wanted to. If he waited until the attendant came back, however, he would be able to enjoy two marshmallows. The duration of time the child was left alone in the room was normally about 15 minutes.
By the end of the study, the ones who had been able to endure the discomfort of the temptation some 25 years earlier were found to be more successful in life. Mischel writes:
At age 27–32, those who had waited longer during the Marshmallow Test in preschool had a lower body mass index and a better sense of self-worth, pursued their goals more effectively, and coped more adaptively with frustration and stress.
From his studies, Mischel found that the successful children were able to distract themselves in different ways so they could better resist the treat. It didn’t much matter what was offered them, but the ones who could fight back the temptation were able to think differently about it. This resulted in their being able to wait for the better deal.
What the researchers found is that when the subject focused on the pleasures of the temptation, it triggered an impulsive reaction. They referred to this as the “hot” qualities of the stimulus. In the case of the marshmallow, the subject would focus on how good it would taste right now. The more the subject visualized the gooeyness and sweetness of the marshmallow, the more likely it would be devoured by the time the attendant returned.
Some of the other subjects were able to remove themselves a bit from the deliciousness of the marshmallow. These children were able to imagine that they were looking at a picture of the treat and concentrated more on its appearance: it was round, soft and white. These are referred to as “cool” qualities and make the desire for the object less intense.
Further studies revealed that successful people in general have the ability to relate to their future selves. For the preschoolers, it would have meant that they were able to visualize themselves enjoying two marshmallows at a later time. This is another way to cool down the temptation. In effect, the subjects were able to identify with the greater pleasure of enjoying two marshmallows at a later time than eating the tempting one right in front of them. Mischel states:
As the researchers point out, if we feel greater continuity with who we will become, we might also be willing to sacrifice more of our present pleasures for the sake of that future self.
When you are able to cool the present and heat the future, you have delayed immediate gratification in order to enjoy future rewards.
Don’t worry if you’re not good at doing that just yet.
The good news is that you can train your brain to connect better with your future self!
Make the effort to place importance on being able to enjoy life at a later time. Think about how being able to put a down payment on a car will give you more fulfillment than those daily coffees. Or how that good feeling of putting on those skinny jeans will last longer than the enjoyment you’ll feel eating that entire piece of cake. Not to mention, you won’t have to endure those guilty feelings about eating that whole thing!!
Do you believe that a big reason you’re struggling in life is because you have a problem enduring discomfort right now?
Can you visualize an enticing picture of how wonderful life could be once you made it through the pain? Can you make that picture more vivid? Feel yourself relishing in a happier life!!
Are you willing to endure some discomfort today to actualize that vision?
So, let’s get started! Begin practicing to cool the present and heat the future.