The importance of using self control for patience
Ever wonder why your willpower fails you just when you need it most? The results of a new long-term study, which first began more than 40 years ago with the now-famous marshmallow test in preschoolers, may offer some clues.
In the late 1960s, researchers submitted hundreds of four-year-olds to an ingenious little test of willpower: the kids were placed in a small room with a marshmallow or other tempting food and told they could either eat the treat now, or, if they could hold out for another 15 minutes until the researcher returned, they could have two.
Most children said they would wait. But some failed to resist the pull of temptation for even a minute. Many others struggled a little longer before eventually giving in. The most successful participants figured out how to distract themselves from the treat's seduction — by turning around, covering their eyes or kicking the desk, for instance — and delayed gratification for the full 15 minutes.
Follow-up studies on these preschoolers found that those who were able to wait the 15 minutes were significantly less likely to have problems with behavior, drug addiction or obesity by the time they were in high school, compared with kids who gobbled the snack in less than a minute. The gratification-delayers also scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT.
Conversely, research has found support that self-control can be improved through “exercising” it. For example, by maintaining proper posture, by performing everyday activities such as opening doors and brushing teeth with the less dexterous hand, and by adhering to a schedule of regular physical exercise, over time, general self-control can be improved.
First, the ability to estimate time allows people to make decisions based not only on immediate outcomes, but on future outcomes too. Second, the ability to direct attention away from certain events permits people to evaluate the situation at hand more thoroughly, and ultimately to make better decisions. These two perceptual abilities – the ability to estimate time and the ability to direct attention away from events – can explain why (clinically healthy) adults have more self-control than children.
Self control and the quality of life
Reviews concluded that self control is correlated with various positive life outcomes, such as happiness, adjustment and various positive psychological factors.