Religious scriptures would attest to the fact that the ability to control desires and impulses is a virtue – abstinence, they would call it.
Although in line with religious teachings, does self-control have a part to play in worldly success too?
The Marshmallow Test – The Ulysses of Psychology
In the late 1960s, Walter Mischel, with the help of a few marshmallows, did something groundbreaking in the field of psychology. He, along with a team of researchers, explored links between self-control and success.
In one of the many variations of their studies, they put 4-year-olds in a room with marshmallows.
The researcher then left the room. The children had two options: They could either eat the marshmallow or they could wait while the researcher came back and then receive two marshmallows – a simple, yet amazing idea to test self-control in kids, given the fact that they love marshmallows.
The researchers recorded the children in the room.
It’s funny to see to what great lengths some children had to go to stop themselves.
One of the little girls tried not to look at the marshmallow. Another just started talking to herself to get distracted.
Later on, these little saints were found to excel in other important areas of life, such as academic achievement, marital stability, etc.
Self-Control and Its Relationship with Health, Wealth and Public Safety
Another study carried out by researchers at Duke University aimed to study the impact of self-control on health, wealth and public safety.
In the longitudinal study, the researchers followed 1,000 children for 30 years. Controlling factors such as socioeconomic status and IQ, they found that individuals with low self-control struggled in all the three areas of life.
Some of the problems that these children faced later on in life included sexually transmitted diseases, substance dependence and poor credit records.
There’s Good News!
The good news is that self-control is a skill and can be learned. It’s not as if the children in Walter’s experiment had in-born self-disciplining traits. As mentioned above, they were good at finding out ways to distract themselves.
Walter also found that children became better at resisting the marshmallow temptation when they were given suggestions regarding distracting strategies. This means that teaching self-control strategies can do the trick.
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