After 40 years of Stanford research, it’s conclusive that people with the quality of delayed gratification are more likely to succeed.
Published in 1972, the “Marshmallow Experiment” uncovered one of the most important attributes of a life that is on the path to success. Here’s what happened. A researcher would bring a child into a private room and sit them down in a chair. In front of them they would place a marshmallow on the table.
Then, the researcher told the child he was going to leave the room and if the marshmallow was still there when he came back he would reward the child with another marshmallow. If they ate it, they wouldn’t get another one.
Simple, right? Get one treat now or two later.
As you might imagine, most children gobbled up the marshmallow while only a few were able to wait the entire 15 minutes the researcher was away.
But that’s not the end. This is where the story starts to get really interesting. This experiment laid the ground-work for an astonishing outcome years later.
It gets better
After following each of the children for more than 40 years, the researchers found those children who were able to delay gratification in Marshmallow Experiment had remarkably positive life experiences. Some had generally higher SAT scores, better social skills, a lower likelihood of obesity and better response to stress. This is amazing. This one life value allowed these children to succeed in life where others naturally had trouble.
As you look deeper into the concept of delaying gratification you’ll find real life practical examples where it can help you tremendously.
Take for instance, if your child delays gratification of watching tv to get their homework done, the effect would be generally better grades. Or if you delay the gratification of ending a workout a few minutes early to put in a few extra reps, you’ll be stronger as time goes on.
Our culture is fast food, microwave and instant notifications. While the practice and benefit of delayed gratification goes far beyond understanding how to manage your money, it can be a very powerful financial attribute in the life of your child.
Applying it to finances
Let’s look at a couple different ways delayed gratification can be used to increase the financial success of your child.
Debt – Not always but consumer debt typically surmounts for those who have a lack of discipline to delay a purchase. If your child can understand and practice putting a purchase off for 24 hours to make sure they really need it, they will exercise a muscle to make them stronger financially in the future.
The key difference between people with consumer debt and those without, everything else being equal, is that the person with no consumer debt has mastered delayed gratification while the person with consumer debt has not.
Investing – The very nature of saving or investing money for something in your future is the essence of delayed gratification. There has to be a high enough value placed on what is to come in order to take the right steps now. This can be difficult for a child who has trouble with immediate gratification.
Try rewarding yourself for accomplishing milestones in your savings account or in paying off your bills. This will help you to feel better about the changes you are making and enjoy some rewards for learning a new habit.
How to work on building the skill of delayed gratification practically with your child.
1. Talk with you children about money. Explain to them how and why we pay taxes. Help them understand that when we work, we get a paycheck and we use that money to invest, save, pay bills and buy food. Kids want to learn about money. Especially at a young age, it’s fascinating how it works and what they can do with it.
2. Incorporate the conversation into your normal activities. When you go to the grocery store, talk to them about your budget and why you buy certain products versus others.
3. Help you child write down his/her goals. Then work with them to hold them accountable to reaching it. You may have to start small so they have success and can feel the reward of waiting.
Like many other life lessons, our children are going to learn financial behaviors from us. If we take the time to be intentional with how they learn we can set them up for success.
By helping them learn values like delayed gratification we are giving them an asset that will pay dividends for many years to come.