We know from scientific experiments dating back nearly a half-century and continuing today, that when we choose to “wait” for something or “hold off” in taking or getting what we want, we benefit in many ways. Research that built upon the original Marshmallow Test, a series of studies that examined delayed gratification, has uncovered many meaningful conclusions about our development both intellectually, emotionally, and socially. (I would suggest googling The Marshmallow Test as there is a tremendous amount of information on studies stemming from the original research).
Delayed Gratification And The Marshmallow Test
Walter Mischel, the original researcher on “waiting” or “delaying taking what we want”, coined the terms Hot and Cool Systems. He proposed that individuals make choices based on a continuum that spans emotional driven or factual based decision processes. The individual who functions with a Hot System is driven by pure emotions. The Cool System represents a more reflective, somewhat strategic individual, who plans their choices based on data that they are presented with. It could be argued that the Hot System is present when we are focused on the “here and now” and the impulsive activities that we engage in. The Cool System is more at the forefront of our thinking when we are planning the future, and functions, in part, by practicing delayed gratification. Longitudinal studies are showing that employing delayed gratification as early as pre-school can contribute to building character, expanding the developing brain, and can even be a predictor of success’ later on in adulthood.
Some might think that we are either born with a Hot or Cool System. Not so says the research! The author of the Marshmallow Test has spent decades scientifically showing that we can train ourselves to operate in the Cool System and enjoy the increased benefits of the behaviors and decisions of delayed gratification.
We are now in the season when most of us enjoy many celebrations and spending time with family and friends. During our celebration we look forward to giving and receiving gifts as expressions of our affection. Let’s challenge ourselves to think past our personal wants and provide a gift for someone else that may have much less than we do. Let’s challenge ourselves to wait until the prescribed time to know what we received as a gift…no peeking. Let’s challenge ourselves to carefully reflect on how to spend monies we received as gifts. Finally, let’s challenge ourselves to not be so quick to react if our expectations of the holidays are not what we had envisioned. Operating out of our Cool Systems by delaying our wants is something that we can practice in the upcoming months and perhaps even for a lifetime. Just be cool.