Aug 17, 2010

Giving up short term pleasure leads to long term success

Q: How do we know what to do in life?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: First know what not to do. It’s easier. Purpose of life is not to be miserable and make others miserable. It is a gut feeling. Choose that which gives you long term happiness even if it gives short term misery. Choosing that which gives you long term misery and short term joy is not wise.

There was a famous experiment in 1989 , well known now as the “Marshmallow experiment”. Performed by Walter Mischel at Stanford University this experiment showed an amazing thing, that testing a child’s self-control at 4yrs could predict academic success later in life.

The numerous experiments actually entailed in this study started with the same basic premise. Children were told that they could obtain a small reward immediately or could hold out for a more valuable reward later. The rewards were carefully calibrated to produce conflict in the child over whether to go for the immediate reward or wait for the larger reward (eg one marshmallow vs two, hence the name of the experiment). The experimenter would then leave the child alone and return a short (although not for the child) time later, typically about 15 minutes. The child could ring a bell at any time to recall the experimenter and receive their lesser reward.

In a follow-up to these experiments children from the original studies were then looked at more than ten years later to see if the ability to delay self gratification had effects later in life. They authors predicted that differences in the ability of children to delay when they had been given no strategies to help them (eg hiding the rewards) would perform better later in life than those who had the rewards removed from sight. This prediction turned out to be upheld, those students who could had been able to delay their own satisfaction without external help had higher test scores and were described by their parents as, to quote the study:

“more verbally fluent and able to express ideas; they used and responded to reason, were attentive and able to concentrate, to plan, and to think ahead, and were competent and skillful. Likewise they were perceived as able to cope and deal with stress more maturely and seemed more self assured.”

In conclusion, those who could avoid the impulse of instant gratification were more able and prepared to succeed in the long run.

Researchers find delayed gratification led to greater success in growing children