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The Marshmallow experiment & the power of delayed gratification

While this is the age of instant noodles, hot stock tips and instant gratification, it is worthwhile to know something about the power of delayed gratification.

The classic Psychology experiment conducted at Stanford clearly highlights delayed gratification as one of the critical factors for success.

Marshmallow test: In the 1960s, Walter Mischel took nursery-school students, put them in a room one-by-one, and gave them a treat (they could choose a cookie, a pretzel stick, or a marshmallow) and the following deal: They could eat the treat right away, or wait 15 minutes until the experimenter returned. If they waited, they would get an extra treat.

Tracking the kids over time, Mischel found that the ability to hold out in this seemingly trivial exercise had real and profound consequences. As they matured and became adults, the kids who had shown the ability to wait got better grades, were healthier, enjoyed greater professional success, and proved better at staying in relationships—even decades after they took the test. They were, in short, better at life.

This is an important learning for money management. We often tend to make quick decisions based out of greed or fear. We have our own automated mental processes to reach every conclusion. But it’s not worthwhile to jump to conclusions. Because the conclusions can jump at you too!

Stop Your Brain to Take Quick Investment Decisions  by Jason Zweig is a book where Zweig points out that making investment decisions is one area where intuition and snap judgments simply don’t work and where our first reaction is usually the wrong one.

Marshmallow experiment revisited

While the Marshmallow experiment is an eye opener, it also leads to the depressing thought when we think of our own lack of control at various times of our lives. While we can blame others for our lack of control, we also realize that failures are totally ours!

It can also lead to the thought that since I have failed in so many areas before, failure is in my nature and I can’t really change that. We may also conclude that success or failure is hard wired or coded into our brains and it’s impossible to change that wiring.

And somehow highlighting self control as the only factor for success does not sound right. It can’t be that simple.

Somewhat true, but that’s why it is important to read about the following experiment.

Marshmallow revisited & the power of conditioning:

A study conducted at Rochester University demonstrates that being able to delay gratification is influenced as much by the environment as by innate ability.

The experiment promised 3- to 5-year-olds new crayons or stickers but returned empty-handed, saying that the supply had run out. When those disappointed kids took the marshmallow test, they gobbled the treat in short order. Hard experience or conditioning teaches some children that the best time to eat the marshmallow is right away.

The other group of children who got the promised goodies waited four times longer, on average.

Being able to delay gratification—in this case to wait 15 difficult minutes to earn a second marshmallow—not only reflects a child’s capacity for self-control, it also reflects their belief about the practicality of waiting.

The findings provide an important reminder about the power of conditioning. The study tells us that apart from our hard wired self control, we can improve the chances of success by nurturing our abilities, training and practice.

And the first step towards nurturing our abilities is to become aware of our own conditioning in life.

For example, does the bad experience of our parents and seniors with the stock markets are affecting our own perceptions about the stock markets?

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