Imagine the following situation: you are passing by your favorite shoe store, and you notice a pair of shoes from your dreams; however, their price exceeds your monthly rent (which you still haven`t paid)! Would you be able to resist the temptation? Or you will follow your first instinct to treat yourself with this overpriced piece of heaven, no matter what it costs?
If you recognize yourself within the second description, maybe you should be aware that the ability to say `NO!` to yourself (or lack of it!) has consequences far beyond exceeding credit–card limit or ordering that second desert after dinner. It is strongly connected with your self-control, emotional stability and self-esteem (Mischel, Ebbesen, & Raskoff Zeiss, 1972). Another thing that you may not know is that motivation is also an emotion: recent studies show that emotional distress can disrupt our motivation, which consequently decreases our self-control (Tice, Bratslavsky, & Baumeister, 2001). Emotional intelligence (EI) is crucial for professional or personal success – our motivation for pursuing most important goals is based on our capacity to neglect short-term rewards in order to get long-term satisfaction. Let`s see some examples of it.
POWER OF SAYING `NO`: MARSHMALLOW EXPERIMENT AND SIMILAR EXAMPLES
Probably the first known example of (unsuccessfully) delayed gratification has been described in the story of Adam and Eve: they could not resist tasting the forbidden fruit, therefore they were eternally expelled from Heaven. The best known scientific example, on the other hand, happened a couple of millenniums later: it`s the famous Marshmallow experiment.
Walter Mischel (Mischel, Ebbesen, & Raskoff Zeiss, 1972) had observed the behavior of a group of 4-year-old kids placed in a so-called `game-room` with toys and marshmallow cookies. The ring of the bell signaled that they could start eating cookies; still, if they waited for 15 minutes instead of taking the marshmallow immediately, they would be rewarded with another cookie. Some children could not wait at all; most of them managed to withstand for a few minutes. And about 30% of the kids had been waiting for entire 15 minutes, using various ways to distract their attention for that time. Fourteen years later, results indicated higher levels of self-empowerment, stress coping and self-esteem within the group of children who were able to resist the temptation and wait for the second marshmallow during all 15 minutes.
This experiment inspired various similar attempts in different cultural settings. Joachim de Posada (2009) had reproduced the Marshmallow experiment among Colombian children: results had almost an identical pattern, with approximately one third of the group being able to restrain from eating for the required period of time, so that they could enjoy double reward afterwards.
A brand new `experiment` of this sort is happening right now in the UK: starting from April 2015, UK citizens have the right to withdraw entire amount of money from their pension funds after they turn 55, without any limitations. This act of British government had been criticized a lot due to `Marshmallow effect`: there is a strong possibility of making very serious misjudgments by retired citizens, which may end with them spending almost entire pension income on `instant gratification` (Pickford, 2014).
HOW TO REACH SUCCES BY `WAITING FOR THE SECOND MARSHMALLOW`?
One of the most interesting aspects of these experiments is the specific behavior of `successful` children: they have been doing all kinds of stuff to keep themselves occupied until the time elapses. They have been playing `hide and seek`, singing, covering their eyes etc. This means that they experienced the same desire to eat the cookie, just like all other kids — the difference is not in their emotions, but in their way of managing those emotions. Thus, first thing that we should do in tempting situations is to occupy our mind (and body) with another activity/activities. If you are craving for that chocolate cake and you promised yourself that you will make it entire week without deserts, than try to go for a walk or eat a fruit every time you think about that forbidden sweet.
Another great technique is to visualize the prize that you will get if you successfully finish what you have planned: for example, it might be exhausting to commute by subway every day instead of calling a taxi, but in that way you will save enough money for your dream summer vacation – and you will avoid the biggest traffic crowds while jauntily relaxing in some tropical heaven.
And finally, if you feel like nothing mentioned above is helpful, there is the ultimate solution: avoid any kind of tempting situation. Do not go window-shopping — there is always some special designer piece that is `made just for you`, even though you still haven`t paid off your latest `window-shopping` trophies; do not log in on your social network account `just to catch up with the latest news` if you have a school/work assignment that has to be done by tomorrow. What is important is to realize that we all have potentials to be genuine masters of our lives: we just have to mobilize our main driving force, our emotions, and use their energy in the most productive way instead of letting them be wasted on our frailties.
By Marina Musatova, Psy.D. and Katarina Mijatovic, MSc.
Mischel, W., Ebbesen, E. B., & Raskoff Zeiss, A. (1972). Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21 (2), 204–218.
Pickford, J. (2014). Can you resist instant gratification for your finances? Retrieved from Financial Times: link
Posada, J. d. (2009). Don`t eat the marshmallow! Retrieved from: link
Tice, D. M., Bratslavsky, E., & Baumeister, R. F. (2001). Emotional distress regulation takes precedence over impulse control: if you feel bad, do it!. Journal of personality and social psychology, 80, 53-67.