In 1970 psychologist Walter Mischel conducted a group of now famous experiments with children and their ability to exercise willpower. These experiments were conducted with cookies and marshmallows.
In the first experiment Mischel placed a cookie in front of the child and gave them a choice. They could either eat the cookie now, or if they waited until he returned from an errand they would get two.
As you may imagine the vast majority of children ate the cookie the instant he stepped outside the door.
There were a unique few though that stayed the course and were able to override their lower natural drives to receive a greater benefit in the end. He called the ones who exercised willpower for a greater outcome “high-delay.”
One of the primary qualities of your ultimate performance, as well as of all of the highest achieving entrepreneurs, is delayed gratification.
Now you might easily jump to the conclusion that these are just children; and that’s the cause of this impulsive behavior. Please think again.
These children were tracked to adulthood and almost without exception the “high-delay” individuals were more productive, more successful and more fulfilled both in business and life.
Furthermore, what he called the “present hedonists” all but with very few exceptions carried their impulsive behaviors into adulthood. Not only did this cause them to limit their chance at mastery and Ultimate Performance, it impacted their fulfillment.
One of the strategies consistent to the high-delay group was they didn’t look at the cookie once Mischel left the room. In fact, many of them covered their eyes.
We discussed Decision Fatigue last week, and you may want to go back and review it. . <reference Decision Fatigue>
One of the invariable qualities of ultimate performing entrepreneurs, business owners, as well as achievement in any and all categories, is the concept of delayed gratification.
Ultimate Performers gain their gratification from the doing of the work itself. Not from external accomplishments or rewards.
I don’t skate to win trophies. I skate to skate.
~ Danny Way
Research proves that even making small decisions exhausts our willpower; and the more we use it, the weaker it becomes.
I teach my clients to preserve willpower, not deplete it.
You might want to read that last line again.
Strengthening your will is not about exercising it more per se.
In many cases it’s about exercising it less.
Now I know that the statement above may seem paradoxical; and yet it’s true nonetheless. The universal law of the conservation of energy is directly applicable to willpower.
To understand what I’m conveying, let’s go back to the research of Mischel.
In a second experiment he placed marshmallows in front of a different group of children and once again told them that if they could wait until he returned from an errand to eat it, then they could have a second one.
If they ate it while he was gone they would not get a second one.
This time he added a different twist.
He told some of the children to visualize and think about how marshmallows were like clouds (round, fluffy, white, etc.) He told a control group to think about how sweet and chewy and soft the marshmallows were.
Conversely, he told a third group of children to think instead about how crisp and salty pretzels were.
As you might imagine, the cloud visualizers waited on average three times longer before eating the marshmallow than those who visualized what marshmallows tasted like.
Interestingly enough, the pretzel visualizers produced the longest pleasure delay of all. Apparently visualizing something pleasurable that’s not available was the greatest strategy of all.
So how does all this fit into willpower and your own Ultimate Performance?
First, the greatest way to accomplish your greatest potential is to be willing to sacrifice a current good for a future greater good. Please ponder that long and hard.
The way to accomplish your greatest potential is the willingness
to sacrifice a current good for a future greater good.
This takes willpower, as well as a commitment to a cause greater than your own lower drives and needs in the moment.
Second, research proves that you have a finite amount of willpower; and while you must strengthen it, one of the greatest ways to strengthen it is to conserve it.
More specifically, one of the greatest ways to conserve willpower is to habituate low leverage activities. <reference Decision Fatigue>
Furthermore, given the examples above, avoidance and distraction can be both devastating to your own advancement, and they can be powerful in facilitating it. Every trait has value used in the right context, quantity and time.
For example, if you’re avoiding and suppressing problems or feelings, that’s an extremely destructive and counter-productive approach.
If however you’re avoiding temptation and distracting yourself from temptation, it can be incredibly productive.
You don’t take an alcoholic to a bar.
For instance as a simple example, if you’re attempting to lose weight, avoid the grocery store when you’re incredibly hungry. I learned a long time ago not to go to the store when hungry. The bill often doubles and my cart is packed.
Likewise, if there’s a pizza in front of you, you can visualize an ice cream cone if you like ice cream as well. Hold it, feel it, see it, taste it.
Visualizing a pleasure that’s not currently in front of you will help to distract you from what is in front of you. Similar to Mischel’s previously mentioned pretzel example with the high-delay children.
The whole of Ultimate Performance, your Ultimate Life, and your Ultimate Contribution and Legacy is based upon your ability to sacrifice the near term good for the long term greater goodness and gifts.
Your ultimate performance and impact requires your willingness to sacrifice in the near term for the long term greater good.
Bottom line, it’s not really about marshmallows and cookies now is it? It’s about contribution, service and legacy.
It’s about experiencing your own Ultimate Performance and Ultimate Life.
It’s about leaving this lifetime with the ability to look back with a feeling of pride and state:
“This is what I leave as my legacy…
“This is my contribution…
“And this is why I was here.”
I’m curious, while it may seem like a sacrifice in the near term… is that really a sacrifice in the long term?
What will your contribution be?
Stay Awake, Love Life, and Be Epic!