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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

What the Marshmallow Experiment Teaches Us About Grit

What the Marshmallow Experiment Teaches Us About Grit

Ever wonder what you have in common with a four-year-old left alone with a marshmallow?

Turns out… a lot.

Whether we are four or 44, the age-old temptation to choose immediate gratification in favor of the patient path to eventual success surfaces multiple times a day.

To save our birthday money or let it burn a hole in our pockets? To increase to 6% matching on our 401k or splurge on the trip we have been seeing on Groupon?

It can feel like the devil is on our shoulder and yet we know the path of most resistance will likely lead toward success.

But how? How do we quiet the gluttony, greed, and impatience that will us in the direction of the here and now so convincingly?

Turns out, what we are really in search of is GRIT.

According to Angela Duckworth, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Grit is the:[1]

“passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission.”

She coined the term in her quest to understand what distinguishes the success of some from the failure of others regardless of IQ. But, where do kids and marshmallows come into play?

Enter: The Marshmallow Experiment

The earliest study of the conditions that promote delayed gratification is attributed to the American psychologist Walter Mischel and his colleagues at Stanford in 1972. They designed an experimental situation (“the marshmallow test”) in which a child was asked to choose between a larger treat, such as two cookies or marshmallows, and a smaller treat, such as one cookie or one marshmallow.

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After stating a preference for the larger treat, the child was told that to obtain that treat, it would be necessary to wait for the experimenter to return.

The child was also told that if he or chose to signal the experimenter, the experimenter would return and the child would receive the smaller treat.

Thus, the smaller treat would be available now, but the larger treat required waiting. To get a larger treat, the child had to resist the temptation to get an immediate treat.[2]

What Happened?

The researchers studied the choices that the children made in real-time and correlated them with performance when they reached High School.

Children who were best able to wait for the larger treat in the experimental context at four years old also turned out to be more socially and academically successful as high-school students earning higher Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores.

What we know is that each child who held out for the larger treat was practicing grit. We know that this is the intangible that prepares us to resist temptation and muscle through the tough stuff in life….and the good news is ….we can get better at it.

What can we do to enhance our own grit and achieve success in life?

Visualize And Verbalize the Goal

Practicing grit is only worth it when it is in service of a worthwhile outcome. You will want to be clear with yourself about what you are aiming for and explicit about why it is so important to you.

  • Does achieving this goal bring you closer to who you want to be?
  • Does it help you access new opportunities or skills?
  • Will it change your legacy?
  • If you were trapped in a time loop would you be willing to do this way forever? You have to want this for YOU and only YOU. Attempting to practice grit in service of someone else’s dreams will get you nowhere.

Decide If the Juice is Worth the Squeeze

You know this process is going to involve giving something up, feeling FOMO, and settling for alternatives — it was going to be easy everyone would do it…

So, the question is, are you willing to sacrifice now in service of the goal you have committed to?

If you say, yes…you are ready to tackle the task at hand.

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Examine Your Circumstances and Surroundings… Don’t Set Yourself Up to Fail

Comb unnecessary visual reminders from your environment

– out of sight, out of mind!

Successful four-year-olds who resisted the marshmallow went so far as to cover their eyes so they didn’t give in to temptation— we can do the same! Scour your immediate surroundings for visual reminders of the thing you are trying to resist.

ie) put the donuts inside the cabinet, your cell phone in another room, or your favorite shopping alerts on silent. What isn’t staring us in the face, won’t tempt us quite so hard!

Make space for creative and fun alternatives

Bring alternatives closer. Plan for the moments of weakness and meet the moment with something else you enjoy instead. Try an adult coloring book, a notebook for journaling, or your favorite record for an impromptu dance-a-thon. Focusing your energy elsewhere may be just what you need to let the tempting moment pass.

During the most difficult moments, learn what you need to get through. Is it yoga? meditation? time alone to reset? Just like the gritty kids in the experiment who sang to pass the time or imagined the marshmallow as a cloud, your ability to distract yourself from the hardship in front of you dictates your ability to surmount it.

Self-Soothe

Whether this means taking a conscious breath or practicing positive self-talk, our ability to recognize our own discomfort, confront it head-on, and redirect ourselves is a muscle that will grow stronger the more we lean into grit.[3]

Work to Build New Habits

Resisting immediate gratification often requires us to replace quick fixes with long-lasting and consistent behaviors that stretch our physical and mental abilities.

Staying home from that high school rager to study for exams, taking a pass on happy hour to stick to the Whole-30, or signing up for the latest Salesforce certification instead of the boozy volleyball league takes grit.

In place of what we would otherwise have been doing, we will need to establish rituals, practices and follow through tactics we may not have needed before.

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We might need to learn proactive study habits like flashcard making, begin tracking meals in our fit-bit, or schedule time to take weekly quizzes online.

Whatever the habit is– we should build it slowly.

According to Roy F. Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, when we effectively build strong habits, it gives us the ability to practice will power long term.

It is less about resisting temptation one marshmallow at a time, and more about proactively creating a series of habits that help us achieve the goals we prioritize.

“People use their self-control to break bad habits and establish good ones, and then life can run smoothly and successfully, with low levels of stress, regret, and guilt.” As he writes, “willpower fluctuates,” but habits don’t — that’s their defining trait.

So how might we do this?

Try microsteps.[4]

They’re small, incremental, science-backed actions we can take that will have both immediate and long-lasting benefits to the way we live our lives.

We know that success fuels success and that when we are able to delay gratification in small ways and feel successful at it, we will be willing to work toward it in bigger and bigger ways– it is when we attempt to make a drastic change all at once that we fail.

Pick out a single step related to the habit you wish to build and do it regularly for a pre-scheduled amount of time.

For example, if you are working toward the goal of earning a promotion and you know that you will need to be consistent studying for your latest certification, you can start to carve out a half-hour after dinner every night to sit down at your desk and spend two weeks carving out that time, going to your desk and showing up for that moment.

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Once you are successfully able to do that for a week you can add in downloading the course and reading 3 pages per evening. This approach will help you to develop the habits that underpin your capacity to be gritty in very real and ongoing ways.

Learn to Impress Yourself

Pursuing your goals may be a lonely road. There may not be glory in the trenches–validate yourself, remind yourself why you are doing it, and know that the payoff will be there on the other side.

Don’t Be All or Nothing About it

You will slip up…. unlike the marshmallow experiment real life does not have a final reveal or last data set. When you are practicing grit in real life you will have to be forgiving. There may be times you forget to show up for yourself, your goals, and your newly built habits. Life is messy.

That is OK.

Grit is all about getting back up when you have been knocked down and trying again. In search of perfection, we will become our own worst enemy. Stay focused on your vision, be forgiving, give grace, and keep moving.

Be Your Own Cheerleader

It is up to you to maintain your momentum so you will have to be the one to celebrate yourself. Notice when you are trying your hardest and validate that effort.

Be Unwavering

Know who you are. Know what you stand for. Know that no obstacle in your way will be too great to prevent you from getting to where you said you were going.

Bottom Line

Trust your gut. Follow your heart. Don’t look back.

Next time you see a marshmallow– remember there is always S’more to the story.

More About Developing Grit

Featured photo credit: Joyful via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Staci Taustine

Founder & CEO, Stubborn Heart Consulting LLC.

10 Critical Lessons To Learn When You Feel Like a Failure 9 Ways to Be Intentional Every Day to Change Your Life How to Stop Playing the Victim in Life And Fight for What You Want What the Marshmallow Experiment Teaches Us About Grit

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

8 Time-Tested Confidence Buildinng Habits You Can Start Now

8 Time-Tested Confidence Buildinng Habits You Can Start Now

Confidence is one of the greatest things you can learn and practice. But it can be confusing, overwhelming and hard. It is a skill and it does take practice but by making some things into habits, you can help your confidence blossom. 

Confidence is “a belief in one’s own self and one’s ability to succeed.” It is made by a simple process:

First, you have to want to achieve a goal or improve, then you are afraid of the change. But you do it anyway, fail and do it over again over until one day, you aren’t afraid of it anymore. You are confident in your ability to succeed at a task.

Just like learning to ride a bike or any skill really, you took a deep breathe and you tried, you fell off your bike and cried, but eventually, you got back on.

Until one day, you cycle without even thinking that you are going to fall off. It is same for any area of your life, if you want to be more self confident, do more things that scare you and incorporate these 8 essential habits into your daily life.

1. Reminding Yourself of Your Victories

Stop reminding yourself of your failures that you habitually do it — putting yourself down, criticizing yourself and over-exaggerating your failures. It is time to draw a line in the sand and start letting that old mindset go, it is undermining your confidence.

It’s scary and new and you may feel afraid, but it is the best choice you will make. Instead of reminding yourself of your failures and how you aren’t good enough, remind yourself of your wins, all you have overcome. Remind yourself of all the good you have done and all the good you can do.

Focus solely on the positive and what you can do and when the hating thoughts come up, just let them pass by or argue with them.

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If it says “you aren’t good enough.” You say “actually I am.”

“You aren’t perfect.” You say “No I am not perfect but that is more than good enough, I am enough just as I am, I don’t have to be perfect.”

Your confidence depends on it so get into the habit of reminding yourself that actually, you are pretty great and have a lot of reasons to be confident.

2. Ask Yourself: What Did You Learn?

Moving forward with changing your inner narrative, you have to start to ask the question: What did I learn?

With practicing confidence, you come across a lot of failure. Instead of beating yourself up and going “why me?” Ask yourself:

“What did I learn? How did that not work? What can I do better?”

Nothing undermines your confidence more than you beating yourself up all the time. Instead of focusing on how you have failed and not achieved the result you wanted, make it a habit to ask yourself questions so the next time around, you can try again from a new angle. Ask yourself how you fell off the bike so next time, you can avoid potholes.

By getting in the habit of questioning your failures instead of bullying yourself, your confidence will become unbreakable because failure won’t shatter your confidence. Just keep learning and keep moving forward.

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3. Don’t Judge Others

This is such a key habit when it comes to building confidence. When we judge others, especially negatively, we create a negative cycle in our head that encourages insecurity. When you judge someone negatively, it makes you think that someone else is negatively judging you. Breeding this type of insecurity will only ever undermine your self esteem and confidence.

People are wonderful but they aren’t perfect. It isn’t their job to perfectly adhere to the way you want the world to be. So to put it simply, don’t judge and let people be as they are. Don’t get caught in that negative mental cycle.

On the flip side of this, you have to understand that people are going to judge you and that their opinion of you, is none of your business. You can’t control how other people choose to see you, you can only control how you judge others. Don’t play a game you can’t win by trying to control other people’s thoughts. It’s like trying to play chess underwater at night. If you tried really hard, it could possibly be done but what is the point.

4. Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

If you want to get into a habit that will help you become more confident, this is it. Everything you want is on the other side of your comfort zone; this applies to confidence.

You gain confidence by challenging yourself and overcoming obstacles. Don’t shy away from challenges and things that make you uncomfortable. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Get into the habit of saying “Oh this makes me uncomfortable, better tackle it head on then” and get in the habit of saying Yes and No: Saying Yes to things you would like to do even if it scares you and No to things you would not like to do.

By saying Yes to things you enjoy and challenge you, you grow in confidence as you overcome them. By saying No to things you don’t want to do, things that bring your down or make you feel low, confidence can also bloom. By standing up for yourself, you assert yourself and your self confidence can blossom.

5. Have the “I Can Handle It” Mindset

This is a beautiful habit to get into in general and it will help your confidence bloom and your anxiety go down.

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Get into the habit of having a I Can Handle It Mindset. You have overcome so many things in your life but we still have the overwhelming fear that we can’t handle bad things coming your way.

But you can, you can handle it because you have handled it time and time again. Stop telling yourself that you can’t and start telling yourself that you can. Whatever comes your way, whatever adversity. You Can Handle It. With this habit, confidence can blossom and grow because you are unstoppable.

6. Find Validation From Within

If you rely on other people for constant validation and praise to give you a confidence boost, you will struggle. As soon as they don’t validate you, you will feel less confident than before. This is whyThe Desire to Be Liked Will End You up Feeling More Rejected.

Get in the habit of validating yourself, whatever you want to hear from someone else, say it to yourself. When you accomplish something, pat yourself on the back, don’t go looking for outward validation. This simple change of supporting yourself and search within for the support you need will help your confidence bloom!

There is one very simple logic to this, your happiness and your confidence are your responsibility. Why would you put your life in the hands of someone else? It isn’t their job to make you happy or validated, it is yours. You also can’t control them at all, which means your confidence and self worth are completely out of your control.

Change that. Find support and validation from within – Don’t Wait for People to Praise You. Do It Yourself Every Single Day.

7. Get Fit

Fitness is the perfect habit to get into if you want to grow confidence because everytime you go, you get better. You grow, you learn new things, you fail and then you amaze yourself with what your body can do, over and over again.

Nothing has helped my confidence bloom as much as taking up a sport. There are so many options for you. Running is the perfect example, the first one is awkward, hard and exhausting. But the next run is a little easier, a week later, you start looking forward to it and then finally, you are running 5K without stopping.

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If you want to get into a habit that reminds you that you are capable, find a sport that interests you and start.

8. Practice Gratitude

Now this isn’t groundbreaking I know, but gratitude is such an important habit to get into if you want to be more confident.

When you practice gratitude, you put yourself in a much better headspace which will in turn, help you feel more confident. Most importantly, when your confidence gets knocked by something or someone, you can always come back to gratitude and be happy for all that you have. It helps keep you aligned and focused on all the good and positive in your life, stopped all the negativity from creeping in and keeping you down.

If you practice gratitude once a day, your life will change because it reminds you of the reality that you are good enough as you are — that is never up for debate.

Try these 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

Final Thoughts

These habits might be small but they can create an intense boost to your confidence and your rebound when you have had your confidence knocked. You are exceptional and you should be confident in your ability to do things and in who you are.

If you are still struggling with that, spend some time working out what you’re afraid of and go and do it right now, overcome it and remember that you are unstoppable.

More Confidence Boosting Tips

Featured photo credit: Olivier Rule via unsplash.com

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