Self-Control |The Power Behind Health, Wealth, and Good Decisions

Self-Control |The Power Behind Health, Wealth, and Good Decisions

I read an interesting article recently about the famous Walter Mischel, the quirky 84 year old psychologist behind the famous “Marshmallow Test.” Not familiar? It’s that test where they take a bunch of kids, sit them in front of a stale marshmallow and tell them that if they wait 15 minutes without eating it, they will get 2 cookies. If they decide to eat the marshmallow, they will only receive 1 cookie. Mr. Mischel continued to follow the habits of his patients throughout their lives, and deduced that those who appeared to have higher self-control from a young age were generally more successful, slimmer, and less susceptible to bad habits like drug and alcohol abuse.

My first thought was, well, at 5, I probably would have eaten that marshmallow, because I couldn’t really comprehend the long term benefits of not doing so. I imagine that then immediate gratification would seem much more appealing. Now, on the other hand, I would like to think I could wait. Can we train ourselves, and even our children, to exert this kind of self-control? Mischel thinks we can. He claims that by using methods of distraction, we can buy a few extra seconds of “thinking” time, and stop ourselves from acting impulsively.

This can apply to all areas of life- whether someone’s ticked you off and you'd like to tear them a new one, or you’re starving and the bread basket is the only thing sitting in front of you. Here are 5 “distraction methods” you can use on a daily basis, to train your brain to slow down and reflect rather than reacting impulsively.

 1. Count backwards from Ten.

  • Before making a decision, whether it’s how to respond to an offensive comment, or if you’d like some of your friend’s potato chips.
  • If you’re about to explode. It will calm you and give you extra time to lend credibility in your argument.

2. Turn the object in question into something undesirable.

  • If you are having trouble resisting the slice of cake, imagine it has maggots crawling all over it, or has been soaked in water.
  • If you're obsessing over some new crush, imagine him/her in the bathroom or some other less than desirable place
3. Remove the object from sight altogether.
  • You’re more likely to eat the chocolates if they are sitting on the corner of your desk in plain sight than you are to if they are stashed away in a drawer.
  • If this is a girl/guy that’s your kryptonite- duh, don’t go near them. Don’t go to the bar you know they’re going to be at… don’t text them. If you do, you’re asking for it.       

 4. Reverse or de-personalize the situation.

  • Step out of your skin and ask yourself honestly what you would advise a close friend to do if they found themselves in this exact situation. Think objectively and be your own best friend

Learn more about self-control and the power of being invested in your process

Useful Links

  1. "Learning Self Control" Walter Mischel 
  2. A Guide to Developing the Self-Discipline Habit 
  3. The Secrets of Self Control | The Marshmallow Test 40 Years Later


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