Delay gratification. Can you?

I have little will-power. Put a piece of chocolate in front of me, and it is gone. Tell me a gift is coming in the mail, and I will beat the mailman to the mailbox until it arrives. So when my minister shared a study on delayed gratification, he was speaking to me.

The Marshmallow Test was conducted in 1970. The purpose of the study was to understand when the control of deferred gratification develops in children. Children ages four to six years were tested by being led into a room where a marshmallow for each child was placed on a table. The children could eat the marshmallow, but if they waited for fifteen minutes without giving in to the temptation, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.

Some covered their eyes with their hands or turned around so that they couldn’t see the treat, others started kicking the desk, or stroking the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal. Others simply ate the marshmallow as soon as the researchers left.

In over 600 children who took part in the experiment, a minority ate the marshmallow immediately. Of those who attempted to delay, only one third deferred gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow. This study made me wonder how well we are doing in delaying gratification for the reward we will receive in heaven?

Do we grab at temptation as soon as we think no one is looking, or perhaps we make an effort, but find the task too hard? We know a reward is coming; we have been promised an eternity in paradise.

In follow-up studies, the children who waited longer for the reward tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures. It seems to me the lesson is a need to seek God’s will and focus on heaven.

My second lesson is to avoid temptation. Sometimes this is possible; sometimes not. If I don’t buy the bag of candy, then I don’t have to pretend it isn’t there. If I don’t allow myself to follow sin, then I don’t have to work to overcome it.

Have a successful week of delaying gratification! Let me know how it went...


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