Did you make a New Year’s resolution for 2016? Most people did. Few will keep them.
And why is that?
Walter Mischel is the author of “The Marshmallow Test: Master Self-Control.” The book is based on fifty years of research that began with a simple experiment. Mischel ran his now famous “Marshmallow Test” on some 650 preschoolers at Stanford University in the late sixties and early seventies.
Each child was offered one marshmallow. The child could either eat it immediately, or wait, and get a second marshmallow in a few minutes. Most scarfed up the marshmallow, but one-third waited long enough to get a second marshmallow.
It seems that delaying gratification at the earliest ages correlated with prosperity later in life.
Mischel has found that the successful preschoolers had a simple strategy. They transformed an impossibly difficult situation into a relatively easy one by distracting themselves. In fact, instead of grabbing it up and popping it into their mouths, they pushed the marshmallow farther away.
In today’s business parlance, it’s called “Executive Control.” Pushing the marshmallow farther away was one way to forestall eating the puffy ball of sugar. Other techniques could easily have been exploring ones nasal cavities or ear canals and toying with the product. In other words, by using your prefrontal cortex or “cool brain” instead of your hot emotional system. Your cool brain can be used to make the miserable process of waiting seemingly effortless and easy.
Mischel says, “I think some people find it much easier to exert self-control than others. But no matter whether one is reasonably good at this overall or bad at this overall, it can be enormously improved.”
So, how do executives use control to resist much more tempting vices than marshmallows?
“What you need is a plan”, says Mischel.
Say you wanted to cut back on your drinking a little. Say that 5:00 PM is the time you are most likely to have your first drink. Simply plan a substitute activity at that time so there’s always an alternative and once you practice that consistently, you’ll have a new habit.
In Mischel’s case, he confesses to finding chocolate mousses irresistible. So when he’s at a restaurant, “I will order the fruit salad. And that’s a specific rehearsed plan, so before the guy can tempt me with the mousses, I’m already ordering the salad.” And to be safe, “the idea that the chocolate mousse before it was brought out of the restaurant kitchen may have had a cockroach having a little breakfast on it first” doesn’t hurt the executive control.
Another fellow who has spent considerable time thinking about the problem of self-restraint and discipline is Yale University’s Dean Karlan. He invented something called a “Commitment Contract.”
He started his work in grad school and researched such contracts and even made a contract with a friend to lose weight.
“The contract was for $10,000,” says Karlan. “The point was to make it for a lot of money, enough that it would really, really painful to write that check.”
He lost forty-eight pounds. Out of that experience he co-founded a web site called stickk, a way to help people their goals without using the stereotypical carrot.
“If you put monetary stakes up, then you have it so that your money goes to, say, a friend who is going to hold you accountable. Or one of the more popular options is the anti-charity. The money goes to something you hate.”
For example, say you hated guns and if you lose, you’d be writing a big check to a cause that you personally find odious, which in this case, might be the NRA.
Another approach to this that’s popular and effective for a lot of people isn’t the monetary part, but the public part. You would have to admit you failed on Facebook and twitter.
So why do so many humans fail to keep their resolutions for the New Year? Because we temporarily value immediate rewards much more than those in the future.
According to Mischel, “the most powerful way to have control is by transforming what the stimulus means. You have to really want to change, because you are taking that delayed goal to live longer, to live healthier, to have retirement funds when you need them, rather than not to have.”
In Walter Mischel’s case, he was once a three pack a day cigarette smoker and practically quit cold turkey. He saw an x-ray of a smoker’s lungs where the cancer had metastasized. There were little green X-marks showing where the radiation was intended to go.
“That was the beginning of my ending my smoking,” he says. “Because the image of me on a gurney with the little green X-marks is very, very vivid. And it makes the distinct cigarettes from a huge temptation to a small dose of poison.”
Food for thought, as we all try, once again, to live up to the New Year’s resolutions we’ve made.
#MDBeThankful – MDB Celebrates 35 Years
2016 marks the 35th anniversary of MDB Communications. When we first starting talking about this milestone and the general feeling about it, most of said we were thankful. We decided to build our party on that theme and took this opportunity to bring together our longstanding clients, vendors and employees; past and present.
Cary shared her thoughts on the anniversary with Capital Communicator here.
MDB Announces Media Team Expansion
MDB Communications is pleased to announce the expansion of its media team with the hiring of Kelsey Daddio as Media Planner/Buyer and Katie Waldner as Assistant Media Planner/Buyer.
Click here to read full announcement.