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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
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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 July 21, 2021

17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd

17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd
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If you are like most people, you probably have big goals and dreams that you would like to succeed in — you want to be the top in your career, live a healthy lifestyle, or flourish in your relationships.

Everyone dreams of a positive future, but most people don’t realize the secret to a truly successful life:

You determine your future in the way you spend your everyday moments. If you want to be a successful person, you must consistently develop good daily habits. As Aristotle pointed out:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

Building positive daily habits is a huge challenge, but can you imagine the amazing things you could accomplish with just a little commitment and determination?

Creating lasting, healthy habits is the real key difference between people who are successful in life and those who are unsuccessful.

You might be wondering which specific habits make the biggest difference. Not to worry, I’ve compiled a comparison list to help you get a jump start on a successful future.

1. Successful people embrace change. Unsuccessful people fear change.

Change is a constant for all of humanity, and it is important that you develop a positive relationship with it.

When unexpected or unwelcome changes arise, ask yourself how you can embrace it instead of running away. A few practical ways to reverse a change-fearing mindset include:

  • Take a moment to recognize and address any fears associated with the upcoming change.
  • Communicate with a person you trust about your negative feelings toward change.
  • Practice positive thinking, which you can read about in the next section.

2. Successful people exude joy. Unsuccessful people think, say and do negative things.

A joyful, positive disposition can seem like a distant reality in today’s cynical world, but it may be easier to achieve than you think. All you have to do is notice the good things around you and practice being thankful.

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Mindfulness and gratitude are not just buzz words – choosing a positive attitude can honestly change your life. Many studies have found that thankfulness leads to greater happiness. Furthermore, research indicates that gratitude may even have a lasting positive impact on the brain and overall mental health.[1]

3. Successful people forgive others. Unsuccessful people hold grudges.

As a human being, you have likely been offended or hurt by others plenty of times. Don’t give in to the temptation to hold a grudge. Let it go.

Note that forgiving someone does not equate to giving up your boundaries (which are very important) or even admitting that the offending party is right. You should choose to let go for your own peace of mind.

4. Successful people track progress. Unsuccessful people just criticize.

Some kinds of criticism, such as constructive criticism, are good for personal and professional development. The kind of criticism I’m talking about is the pessimistic, nagging, unhelpful variety. This is the kind of criticism in play when you are unfairly harsh to yourself or others.

Toss unfounded criticisms aside and consider tracking your “wins” or your progresses, no matter how small. Take mental notes or keep a progress journal.

If you have a solid sense of what you have achieved, you will be less tempted to be hard on yourself.

5. Successful people share information, data and ideas. Unsuccessful people hoard.

If you have useful information or generate brilliant ideas on the regular, your first instinct may be to keep it all to yourself for personal gain and solo recognition.

Instead of hoarding bright ideas, share them with your team. Your talents will be on display for the team, and the team will be able to support you and make your ideas a reality.

6. Successful people are humble. Unsuccessful people talk more than they listen.

Humility is key. The ability to listen to other people, really listen and understand, is essential to success in both work and relationships — and to listen you have to be humble.

Everyone has experienced the frustration of being in a one-sided conversation. When someone approaches you with a question or concern, put your own world aside for just a moment and give them the kindness of your full attention.

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7. Successful people take risks. Unsuccessful people take the easy way out.

The next time your heart is racing and you want to walk away, consider embracing the risk. You never know what might happen if you take a chance.

Embracing risks looks like accepting the speaking engagement even though it seems a little scary. Success takes the courageous route, not the easy route.

8. Successful people learn, improve and read every day. Unsuccessful people stop learning.

Instead of binge-watching a show tonight, save an hour before bed to read a book and expand your mind.

Unsuccessful people are afraid to be flexible – they don’t challenge themselves to learn new things. Avoid this pitfall by exposing yourself to new thoughts and ideas every day.

9. Successful people handle problems well. Unsuccessful people act before they think.

The next time you run into a problem or even an emergency, try to work through your initial panic reaction with a few deep breaths.

Instead of acting rashly, think through your next actions as quickly but as logically as you can.

Learning to handle problems thoughtfully is an absolutely essential tool in the successful person’s toolbox (that’s you!).

10. Successful people accept responsibility for their failures. Unsuccessful people blame others.

Along with a previous tip about humility, this is one of the hardest things you’ll ever learn to do – but also the most rewarding. When you’ve failed, you must fight the urge to pass the blame. Successful people are able to fail honestly and gracefully.

And, hey, don’t feel bad about failing. Some of the most successful people in the world have failed too many times to count. It’s all a part of the process.

You can check out this article for more tips on how to fail well:

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How Failure Helps You To Succeed and Grow

11. Successful people work with passion and commitment. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.

A short and sweet lesson for you:

You should never expect to achieve the things you want without working hard.

Follow your passion and stay committed to pursuing it. Work hard and stick to your habits every day. You’ll earn your reward.

12. Successful people spend time with the right people. Unsuccessful people think they already know it all.

A lot of people miss out on useful relationships and information sharing because they think they can do it all alone.

Spend time with people who inspire you, spur you to be a better person, and remind you that you can’t go it alone.

13. Successful people make to-do lists and maintain proper life balance. Unsuccessful people waste their time.

Ah, time management. Unsuccessful people never master the art of organization and planning.

Here are a few tips for you when it comes to time management:

  • Make to-do lists. Seriously, this will help you. Make time to do it every morning, evening, or whenever you are able.
  • Keep track of your time. Are you happy with the way you are currently balancing things? What changes can you make?
  • Keep a calendar full of your long-term goals (see next tip).

14. Successful people write down goals and think long term about their burning desires. Unsuccessful people get distracted every day.

Why is it so important to keep a long-term goal calendar? Here’s the deal:

The things you are passionate about today need a backbone.

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Give your passionate ideas sustainability by writing down goals and staying on task instead of succumbing to distraction.

15. Successful people compliment others. Unsuccessful people try to bring others down to their level.

There is no greater confidence than saying “no” to sudden jealous or envious feelings and choosing to sincerely admire someone’s talents instead.

Unsuccessful people live in a world driven by competition, but successful people know that building people up is far more rewarding than bringing them down.

16. Successful people want others to succeed. Unsuccessful people secretly hope they fail.

In the same vein as the point above, this tip is all about good intentions.

Care for the people around you. Encourage them toward their successes. Hoping that others fail will not help you at all.

17. Successful people know their purpose and mission. Unsuccessful people don’t know what they want to be.

The last thing that differentiates successful people from unsuccessful people is one of the most important:

Keep your mission in mind.

Don’t be swayed to and fro by passing emotions and events. Know who you are and pursue your dreams wholeheartedly.

Final thoughts

Above all, stay confident. Truly believe that you can be and are successful. Strive to prove it in your day-to-day habits and activities!

What are you waiting for? Choose one of the habits above and get started today.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Berkeley University of California: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain

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