Non-fiction Book of the Month - The Marshmallow Test

Posted on 1st October 2015 by Sally Campbell
Good things Come to Those that Wait…

I remember being told that, aged eight, my small mouth in a pout as the television was turned off and the video player started to record The Wrath of Khan because I had chores to do.  Having it on tape, I was reminded, meant I could watch it many times. But, I said, wouldn’t it just be easier to watch it now?

As you can see, I would easily have failed the famous Marshmallow Test.

If you haven’t already heard of the test, it goes like this: Psychologists in the 1960’s, led by the legendary Dr. Mischel, gave children a marshmallow and a choice. They could either eat that one now, or wait a set number of minutes and be rewarded with two marshmallows instead.

That was it. Simply: could they wait for a greater reward?

One third of the group was able to defer their gratification (I like to imagine the other two thirds at this stage, cheeks stuffed with gooey sugar and smiling) but what happened next was the surprise – the same third went on to outstrip their peers in grades, achievements and health in later life. Better self-control, it turns out, means lower BMI, better jobs and, in many cases, greater happiness.

Now, if you are thinking that you would fail the test too – don’t worry. The sentiment at the heart of Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test is that self-control is not just beneficial but that it can be learned.

In order to help you through, Mischel divides impulses into ‘hot’ for our more impulsive, passionate side and ‘cold’ for our more reasoned, logical side (Trekkies, think Kirk and Spock). He stresses that the ability to use your ‘cold’/Spock side to tame your ‘hot’/Kirk side will improve your life immensely – and it just takes practice.

The book is nuanced and well argued – and it provides plenty of advice and ideas to get your Kirk in check – and with its help, we will all be a bit more Spock. (And by that I mean in control of our lives/Star Trek references).



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