Willpower and Patience – A Funny Look at Two Virtues

Do you know about the marshmallow experiment?  This funny video gives us a behind the scenes perspective and lets us watch children who need to tap into their inner willpower and adult-like patience. It allows us to imagine what the original experimenters might have seen in the late 1960’s.

These adorable kids are seated directly in front of a delicious marshmallow and told that they can have not only the marshmallow in front of them but an additional marshmallow, if – and only if – they are able to abstain from eating the marshmallow while left alone in a room for a few moments with the tempting marshmallow.  The adult tells the kids that she will return shortly.  The expressions made by the children are priceless.  Their faces and behaviors show everything that adults try to mask when faced with temptations.

Would your child-like self tap dance, roll your eyeballs, or pretend to sleep if faced with an enticing offer that you wanted to ignore? Maybe you would just give in, as many kids in this video did.  And that would be the wrong choice since the children who give in miss out on receiving marshmallow number two.  But, that’s exactly what the video maker wants us to think.  This video is made by Prudential, a company that hopes to remind the adult viewers that saving money takes a similar degree of willpower and patience.

What I find most intriguing about the original marshmallow experiment are the results that were not uncovered until a decade after the study took place. Walter Mischel, who headed up the experiment in the 1960’s, began to follow-up with his past volunteers and found that the correlations between the children’s marshmallow wait times and their academic success were quite amazing.  In fact, those children who had been able to wait 15 minutes for their treats had SAT scores that were, on average, 210 points higher than those who waited only 30 seconds.  Pretty shocking!

Immediate gratification – whether it comes in the form of marshmallows, expensive vacations, or shopping binges – is something most of us need to reign in a bit.  This video reminds us that the pain of delayed gratification is actually quite laughable.  Instead of giving in to immediate gratification we should show some willpower and patience and wait for the big wins – whatever they may be.

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