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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.

How To Train Yourself To Be More Open-Minded 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 April 27, 2021

How To Accept Responsibility For Your Life (7 No-Nonsense Tips)

How To Accept Responsibility For Your Life (7 No-Nonsense Tips)

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you are human. This means that there is likely a time or two when you have not taken responsibility for something in your life. We’ve all been there. Maybe you broke an item at a place of employment but didn’t fess up to it, or you missed a deadline and blamed the reason why on someone else, or perhaps you decided a responsibility was too great to face.

Accepting responsibility can be challenging because it doesn’t always feel good. It can require time we think we don’t have. Feelings of shame or inadequacy can surface. Rather than face those feelings, it’s much easier to not accept responsibility.

This is all understandable. But it may not be serving us and who we want to be in the long run.

Accepting responsibility has benefits at work, home, and all aspects of life. When we demonstrate to ourselves that we can be responsible, we show our strength of character, our leadership qualities, and even our adulting skills.

Knowing that doesn’t make accepting responsibility any easier, does it?

Using the example of pretending that you live in an apartment with multiple roommates where you all have to share the kitchen, we will look at seven tips on how to accept responsibility for your life.

1. Stop Playing the Victim

You’ve just cooked a big meal involving several pots, pans, and cooking utensils. You reflect on feeling overwhelmed and stressed by life right now and decide that you just don’t have the time or energy to do your dishes right now. The next time you or your roommates want to use the kitchen, there’s a big mess and a lack of options for pans and cutlery to use.

Maybe one of your roommates will do it for you? Superman to the rescue? I hate to break it to you, but Superman doesn’t actually exist.

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Why insist on crushing every childhood fantasy? Because when we wait for someone else to fix our problems, we are playing the victim, and if Superman doesn’t exist (or Spiderman or Wonder Woman, or Black Panther, etc.), then we will be perpetually tied to the proverbial train tracks, waiting for someone else to save us.[1]

What we can do in this situation is acknowledge and validate our feelings. In the above scenario, you’re focusing on feeling overwhelmed. This feeling isn’t “bad.” But it does affect your motivation to accept responsibility, keeping you in a victim mindset. It isn’t just the dishes that you need to face. You also need to take responsibility for your emotions.

Acknowledging and validating emotions help you to understand what you’re feeling and why. You can then redirect the energy you’re wasting on being a victim and redirect it toward more productive things in life. Like doing your own dishes.

There are many different ways we can develop the skill of self-acknowledgment and validation. One of the best is to write about what you’re experiencing. You may be surprised by how you describe the “what” and “why” of your feelings. You may even uncover other times in your life when you felt this way and find that your current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are based on that past. You might even heal an old experience as you deal with the present circumstance!

2. End the Blame Game

“If my roommates were more consistent about doing their dishes, then I would feel like I could do mine.”

It’s so easy to come up with excuses and reasons why we shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than anyone else. We find interesting ways to blame others for why we can’t do something. This becomes another way to avoid taking responsibility, and we can do so out of a perspective of anger.[2]

Anger can be energetically compelling, but it’s not always rooted in reality. It can keep us stuck and prevent us from having the life and relationships we really want. Much like being the victim, it’s important to ask yourself how being and staying angry is serving you. Again, it’s important to acknowledge and validate these thoughts and feelings too.

Perhaps you’re really feeling mad at someone at your workplace who isn’t taking responsibility for their own projects. You end up taking on their work, allowing anger to build up. By the time you get home, you need a place to let that anger out. And so, your anger is directed toward your kitchen and your roommates.

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This may help you feel better for a little while, but it’s not sustainable. There are so many ways of dealing with anger. It would serve you and others around you well to learn how to manage and work with any anger you have in your life so that you can resume your acceptance of responsibility.

3. Forgive Yourself and others

After reading tips number 1 and 2, perhaps you are now adept at practicing acknowledging and validating your feelings. Because of that work, it’s easier to forgive yourself and others.

For instance, without the feelings of victimhood and blame, you have the energy to see things from a perspective of forgiveness and tolerance.

From a place of forgiveness, you see that even though your roommates don’t take care of their dishes right away every time, they do so more often than not. Plus, you can see that all of you have challenging things happening in your lives right now, so why should your challenges make it so that you can slack off? You may even remember times when your roommates have helped you out with cleaning the kitchen even though the mess wasn’t theirs.

As you forgive others, you forgive yourself too and take ownership of your own tasks.

4. Use Responsibility as a Way to Help Others

Shirking our responsibilities can actually affect others’ well-being. We can step into a space of considering how our actions, or lack thereof, might be burdening or harming others.

For example, not doing your dishes and leaving the kitchen dirty means that when another roommate wants to use the kitchen to make a meal, they may have to clean the kitchen first to have access to the pots, pans, and utensils required. They may feel annoyed that you didn’t take responsibility for your mess, which affects your relationship with your roommate. A confrontation may be on the horizon.

However, if you can put yourself in the frame of mind to consider things from your roommate’s position, you might think twice about leaving the dishes. By taking responsibility and doing your part to keep the kitchen clean, you are taking care of the space and your roommates.

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A lot of people find it easier and highly beneficial to do things out of a sense of responsibility for others.[3] Thinking about things from another’s perspective can be a motivating factor and can provide us with feelings of purpose.

5. Look for the Win-Win

When we choose not to take responsibility, we are choosing a zero-sum game, meaning nobody wins. What if you looked for the win-win opportunity of taking responsibility instead?

Maybe there have been times when your roommates have saddled you with a messy kitchen. If you now decide to leave your mess, nobody wins. Whereas, cleaning up after yourself now means that you are modeling how you want the space to be treated by everyone. You are also ensuring that your roommates can trust you to take responsibility for your cleaning tasks, and the next person who wants to use the kitchen will be able to do so.

In this scenario, you will be taking responsibility, cultivating a relationship of trust with your roommates, and making it so that nobody else has to clean up after you. Everyone wins.

6. Make Taking Responsibility Fun

Another vantage point from which we could look is the place of joy. Yes, joy.

It’s easy to paint “cleaning the kitchen” in a negative light when shows are streaming on Netflix and downtime activities calling. But what could happen for you if you made the task of doing the dishes fun?

How can it be fun? This is where you get to be creative.

Some ideas could be playing some of your favorite music as you clean, invite a roommate to chat while you clean, or you could play that show you’re binging on Netflix as you scrub. Have Airpods? Call a friend as you clean!

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Finding a way to make it fun helps you lose track of time and get the job done faster. It could also provide some necessary “play” time. We don’t play enough as adults. Get back to your childhood roots and find ways to incorporate play into your daily routine, and get the dishes done at the same time!

7. Choose Your Own Adventure

When we approach responsibility from our highest self, we can be at choice for how we want to accept it. This requires an awareness of what we intend to accomplish or learn in any life experience.

For instance, when faced with a responsibility, you could consider all the ways of looking at it (from a place of victimhood, blame, forgiveness, service to others, win-win, or fun) and decide which perspective would serve the highest good of all, yourself included.

When we can approach any life situation from the standpoint of having choices, doesn’t that feel better than feeling forced into a decision or action?

Conclusion

Knowing that you can make conscious choices at any time in your life hopefully helps you to feel freer and more energized for any life responsibility you choose to accept. These seven tips on how to accept responsibility will set you up for a good start.

More Tips on How To Be a Responsible Person

Featured photo credit: Marcos Paulo Prado via unsplash.com

Reference

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