• Mischel conducted the marshmallow experiment, which revealed that delaying gratification can lead to greater success in life.
  • This experiment involved observing over 100 kids who were given two options: leave a single marshmallow on the table for 15 minutes and be rewarded with another, or eat the first marshmallow and get nothing.
  • Some kids ate the marshmallow immediately, while others tried to resist but eventually gave in; several actually succeeded in resisting the urge (or delaying gratification).
  • Over the next 40 years, the researchers monitored the children and found that those who were able to delay gratification were more successful in every capacity.
  • You can capitalize on the findings of this experiment by delaying gratification in your own life where you think you could use some improvement.

Walter Mischel, renowned psychologist, and his fellow researchers conducted an experiment that revealed an important key to success—at work, in health, and everything else under the sun. Let’s take a look at what their study involved, what exactly it revealed as the key to success, and how you can use these findings to your advantage.

Methods in Experimentation

Mischel’s team tested hundreds of kids between the ages of 4 and 5 years of age. To start, the researchers took each child (individually) into a room and placed a marshmallow in front of them. They told them that if they left the marshmallow on the table and didn’t eat it while the researcher was away, they’d be rewarded with another marshmallow. But if, on the other hand, the child ate the marshmallow while the researcher was out of the room, then they would not receive a second marshmallow.

The researchers observed the children via video camera: some of them ate the marshmallow as soon as they were left alone; others squirmed in their seats as they fought the urge, but eventually gave in; and others managed to restrain themselves.

Results of the Marshmallow Probe

Flash forward to the follow-up investigation. The researchers continued to monitor the children over the following years and made significant discoveries. Those who restrained themselves from eating the marshmallow so they could receive a second, or those who delayed gratification:

  • Scored higher on the SATs
  • Were less likely to become obese
  • Had lower rates of substance abuse
  • Better managed stress
  • Had better social skills
  • Scored higher on other life measures

The researchers continued to follow these study participants for over 40 years and consistently found that the kids who succeeded in delaying gratification grew up to be successful adults in all capacities.

You Can Capitalize on These Findings: Here’s How

In conclusion, the researchers observed that delaying gratification leads to greater success in life. This was true when it came to the study participants’ success in school, work, and a number of other capacities and for 40+ years. You can capitalize on these findings by simply making a point to delay gratification. Here are a couple simple examples of how delaying gratification can improve one’s life:

  • Jess’s big goal is to work out 3-4 times a week—but she’s having trouble accomplishing this goal, as she’s often distracted by her social media feeds in the morning. Finally, she makes a point to delay the gratification of checking these feeds and works out immediately upon waking up instead. She finally reaches her goal consistently and experiences a boost in her health and wellbeing.
  • Mikey is struggling to pass his psychology class. His other classes are easy and require little to no studying, but things don’t come so easy to him in psych. After a few weeks of simply hoping that his grade will improve, he decides it’s time to act. He ends up delaying the gratification of hanging out with his friends and watching TV, and studies for an hour every day first. Soon enough, his grades improve and he ends up getting a B in the class.

Is there an area in your life that could use some improvement? Could your overall lifestyle use a little makeover? Try delaying gratification—delay the gratification of buying new décor for your home when you’re trying to save money; delay the gratification of eating the rest of that chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream if you’re trying to eat healthier; delay the gratification of going out with friends when you have an important presentation the next morning. Try delaying gratification and find success.