I want cookie!
Willpower Is Destiny
- Stick a little kid alone in a room with nothing but a marshmallow.
- Tell the kid they can eat it now or, if they wait 15 minutes, they get two.
- Then you leave the kid alone.
The big shock: statistical analysis found that a child’s level of self-control is every bit as powerful a predictor of her adult financial success and health (and criminal record, for that matter) as are social class, wealth of family of origin, or IQ. Willpower emerged as a completely independent force in life success— in fact, for financial success, self-control in childhood proved a stronger predictor than either IQ or social class of the family of origin.
COOKIE COOKIE COOKIE
To get the self-regulation strategies right in this segment, says Rosemarie Truglio, senior vice president for education and research, they consulted with none other than Walter Mischel, the mastermind behind the marshmallow test.
How we focus holds the key to willpower, says Mischel. His hundreds of hours of observation of little kids fighting off temptation reveal “the strategic allocation of attention,” as he puts it, to be the crucial skill. The kids who waited out the full fifteen minutes did it by distracting themselves with tactics like pretend play, singing songs, or covering their eyes. If a kid just stared at the marshmallow, he was a goner (or more precisely, the marshmallow was).
Mischel proposed teaching Cookie cognitive control strategies like “Think of the cookie as something else” and reminding himself of that something. So Cookie sees the cookie is round and looks like a yo-yo, and dutifully repeats to himself over and over that the cookie is a yo-yo. But then he gobbles anyway.
To help Cookie take just a nibble— a major triumph of willpower— Mischel suggested a different impulse-delay strategy. Alan tells Cookie, “I know this is hard for you, but what’s more important: this cookie now, or getting into the club where you’ll get all kinds of cookies?” That did the trick.
How This Can Help You
- Distract yourself. Willpower is tied to attention. Focusing on something else increases self-control.
- If you can’t distract yourself, just delay the impulse and focus your attention on the reward ahead.