A few years ago I read psychologist Walter Mischel’s book, “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control,” which provides recommendations on how to substantially increase your ability to control your impulses, including:
- Create good habits
- Visualize long-term consequences
- Disassociate from situations so they are less personal
This strategy even managed to teach self-control to Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster.
Mischel is the creator of the marshmallow test, one of the most famous experiments in psychology. The marshmallow test found that children who were able to resist temptation early in their lives went on to have better life outcomes: they were healthier, performed better in school, and made more money. Delayed short term gratification seems to lead to better long-term results.
Recently I stumbled upon a parable which makes this point in an amusing way:
A barber is talking to one of his customers. “See that kid?” he says as he points to a twelve-year-old standing outside the barbershop. “He is the dumbest kid in world. Watch. I’ll prove it to you.”
The barber takes out a one-dollar bill and a five-dollar bill, and then calls the boy inside. He holds out both bills, and asks, “Which one do you want, son?”
The kid takes the one-dollar bill and leaves the shop.
“See?” laughs the barber. “The dumbest kid in the world.”
A few minutes after the customer leaves the barbershop, he happens to see the boy coming out of an ice cream store. He goes over and asks, “If you don’t mind me asking, son, why didn’t you take the five-dollar bill?”
The boy takes a lick of his ice cream cone and replies, “Because the day I choose the five-dollar bill, the game’s over.”
Apparently, Steve Miller Band’s encouragement to Take The Money And Run might not be the best advice.