The holidays are past us and the airwaves are bursting forth with ads promising winning strategies for New Year’s resolutions, including weight loss and financial planning. I find it absolutely fascinating to follow the timely sequence of holiday overeating and overspending to being cajoled into instant self restraint. If only we could change our human behaviors so quickly and easily. For years I have been studying the challenge of developing self control and how to assist those who come to me for help with managing eating, drinking, spending and other behaviors.
Over 40 years ago Dr. Walter Mischel started researching self control skills demonstrated by a series of experiments involving young children and marshmallows. He found that those children who could resist the marshmallow placed in front of them and hold out for a larger reward in the future became adults who were more likely to complete college, earn higher incomes and less likely to become overweight.
The good news is that Dr. Mischel powerfully presents documentation and research that shows that self control skills including cognitive and emotional, can be learned, enhanced and harnessed. It is possible to develop tools to create positive change. In other words, it is the combination of environment, DNA and our active selves that make it possible to be “active agents” in our own lives. We can use strategies to resist temptation and delay gratification. By taking developing the skills, nurturing it and practicing it we can empower our executive function and self control strategies which then allow us to improve our ability to achieve our goals.
By learning to use positive thinking, mindfulness/meditation/breathing, thinking through to actions and results, distracting ourselves with something fun, imagining how someone else would behave, monitoring progress, visualizing your future self, creating consequences for succumbing to craving, paying attention to motivations, role modeling for children we can build an approach for building a life lived with self control as a value. His tools are being applied to educational curriculums, financial planning and other aspects of life that require self control.
Dr. Mischel’s book, “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control” is a great read. I encourage you to consider how you might want to enhance your own self control as you begin the new year with a new set of resolutions. There is great reward ahead for all of us who resist the “Marshmallow” and let our motivations lead us to something better in the future.