(Stop thinking about the marshmallows! Photo Credits: John Morgan)
If you haven’t heard/read about the Stanford Marshmallow experiment, here’s a short summary of it:
Walter Mischel, a psychologist, conducted an experiment with his colleagues more than 40 years ago. They put a child and a marshmallow together in a room and instructed the child to not eat the marshmallow until 20 minutes later, when the researcher comes back. Some of them managed to wait it out and earned that extra marshmallow while some didn’t.
The experiment didn’t just end there. Mischel tracked 59 of these children recently, who are in their 40s already, and found out that their willpower strength remained roughly the same. Also, the parents of those children who waited for the extra marshmallow, rated them better in many aspects of life.
This experiment built the foundation of research on “delayed gratification” and willpower. My purpose here is not to evaluate this experiment, but rather, explore more on delaying gratification.
(In my post, I’ll be using Dominic who loves GongCha to the extent that he drinks it everyday as an example. It’s very relatable and most Singaporeans love it. For those who don’t know what GongCha is, it’s basically “higher-end” milk tea. To those who do not drink it, feel free to substitute it with whatever “thing” that has a cost to it and is not very necessary in your life.)
First, what is delaying gratification? It is basically forgoing a WANT now in order to attain a stronger and better WANT in the future. And why is that so good for us?
- Financial goals. One cup of milk tea from GongCha costs about 3 SGD. If you don’t drink it everyday, good for you. For those who do, abstaining from that one cup per day could go a long way. In our case, Dominic is an addict. Not drinking a cup a day would have saved you almost $100 every month. Putting that savings into investments could ultimately help you achieve your financial goals in the future.
- Health. Dominic happens to drink 100% sugar every time…32 years later, he is diagnosed with diabetes. If Dominic did not drink that one GongCha per day, he could have prevented medical problems in the future.
Now, how do we actually DELAY gratification? There are many ways to go about it, but I’m just going to talk about two of them. One is to avoid the temptation, and second is to control your impulse.
For example, Dominic feels like buying a cup of GongCha every time he sees the shop. Instead of resisting the urge to buy a cup, Dominic avoids the shop like a plague. He makes a detour to get home. More walking and less money spent. That’s killing two birds with one stone.
You could apply the same to your current habit too. Avoiding the temptation or getting yourself distracted from the temptation is certainly easier than controlling your impulse.
Controlling your impulse requires willpower. Researchers have found out that willpower can be depleted and your willpower is the strongest around 2 hours after you wake up. However, when Dominic passes by that GongCha store, it’s unlikely to be in the morning. When Dominic passes by the store at night, his willpower has been sorely depleted and he’s having a sip of the chilling, tasty milk tea moments later.
And that’s why we should develop HABITS instead of relying solely on willpower.
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar
HABITS. Buying GongCha everyday is a habit. Fortunately, habits can be changed. However, habits need time to be formed/changed. Gary Keller estimated the time to develop a habit to be 66 days in his book.
One way to develop a habit you want is to mark your calendar with a red cross every time you successfully performed the action. For example, Dominic crosses the date on the calendar every time he refrains from buying a cup of milk tea from the GongCha store. After seeing the long chain of red crosses, Dominic forms a habit of not buying milk tea from GongCha anymore.
All this takes time. Do not falter. Ask yourself questions such as “Do I really need it?”, “Can I survive without ____?” when faced with the daunting task of resisting your temptations.
Of course it’s fine to pursue your wants. Just make sure that they are in moderation. Or helps you in your growth. Small, unnecessary “wants” that you forgo will contribute in helping you achieve the big goal that you are working towards. For example, by saving on the many cups of GongCha, Dominic could finally go for his long awaited vacation to Paris.
With that, I wish you all the best in delaying your gratification while I go enjoy my marshmallows now.
(P.S. If you wish to find out more about investing, feel free to contact me. I will do a post on investments sooner or later too though.)