Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Great Importance of Teaching Deferred Gratification

In 1968, at Stanford university, a Professor Walter Mische conducted what has become known as the "Marshmallow Test". It was an experiment that used hundreds of 4 year olds (one at a time), an empty room with the exception of a video camera, a table and a marshmallow on a plate in front of the seated child. The child was told that they could eat the marshmallow immediately or, should they be able to not do so, in 15 min., they would be given 2 marshmallows to eat.



They were followed up many years later. They had found a great correlation among the children that could hold out...at least the longest....to being much more successful later in life.  The ones that had held out all had done well....some of the ones that could not ( a much lower percentage ) had also become successful.  This provides the thrust of this article.

The ones that had become successful despite their earlier failure had learned deferred gratification.  It shows that one can overcome an earlier disposition.

Deferred Gratification simply means to put off then for greater returns later... to put in the effort and to reap greater rewards later in life.

Now, the ones in this particular experiment showed that the 4 year olds that had waited had used distraction (thinking about something else....looked away...fiddled with their hair...etc).  A better way would involve keeping the desired result in focus and to enjoy the journey until reached.

Various techniques already exist...some instilled in our culture already.  The saving of change in a piggy bank for a nice toy in a few months is a good example.

Sports / music / academics (taken seriously - hours a day of practice) is a great way to learn Deferred Gratification.  It demonstrates to the child, so effectively, the real life benefits of striving then for great benefits later on.  With positive results....positive behavior naturally follows.  The "natural high" ....the internal satisfaction from achievement is a positive addiction....one in which the child strives to repeat.  With the parents guidance....ensuring the appropriate goals are set before them....the child will become more and more motivated with each successive victory...they are then on the correct path of self mastery.  This all important lesson is what keeps children drug / gang / failure resistant.  The concept of future is instilled.  Having a heavily desired goal (passion) with an efficient path lain out before the child (a direction for the resulting drive)...gives them a reason to forgo cheap Immediate Gratification at the sacrifice of directed Deferred Gratification.

With Positive Reinforcement of good behaviors and achievements...there is an immediate and a greater deferred gratification when the desired result is achieved.   This is why Positive Reinforcement is such a powerful way of teaching. 

Deferred Gratification is a result of having a goal...this instills drive...one that can overcome the drive for immediate gratification.  With this important realization....children will make it a habit that will carry over into all aspects of their lives.

The key to this is a worthy goal...and worthy objectives along the way.  Give them examples of success...great people in history or in life to emulate.  Lay out the path necessary to achieve that goal....plant plentiful achievable objectives along the way and give plentiful Positive Reinforcement throughout.

With a map of their future before them....they will have a concrete example that can then be visualized, and so, conceptualized.  This can then become a way for the child to measure their progress and provides a powerful motivator.  Just as importantly....it appeals to your critically reasoning child because you will have established cause and effect in their minds...and not blind faith.   Since it will make sense to them....it will become their journey...and their pride when they achieve the milestones along the way.

Drive is the most important variable in success.  Deferred Gratification comes naturally to those with a passion in mind.  For those without having realized their passions at that time (very few 4 year olds do)...Deferred Gratification is a necessary step to achieving their passions in the future....one that with practice...leads them to the realization of broader horizons (concept of future) to strive for....this will lead them to their passions....which develops their drive.

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