It’s hard to delay gratification— but when we do, we’re more effective.
A famous late 1960s Stanford experiment tested the ability of pre-school kids to resist the lure of instant gratification— and gave some powerful insights into willpower and self-discipline.
In the study, four-year-olds were put in a space on their own with a marshmallow on a plate in front of them and told they could either enjoy the candy immediately or if they waited until the scientist returned 15 minutes later, they might have two marshmallows.
While most kids said they were going to wait, they often struggled to resist and then gave in, eating the treat before the researcher came back, reports TIME. The kids who managed to hold off for the entire 15 minutes generally used techniques for denial, such as turning away and shielding their faces.
The consequences of the behavior of the children are significant: those who were able to delay gratification were far less likely to be obese or to have drug addiction and behavioral problems by the time they were adolescents, and later in life were more successful.