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How important is self-control to success?

How important is self-control to success?

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength or knowledge, but rather a lack of will. – Vince Lombardi

Today I want to tell you a story about a “marshmallow” and how it can change your life. In 1972 Dr. Walter Mischel, conducted an awesome study using marshmallows, to see how 4-year-olds would resist temptation and delay gratification. Mischel told a group of four-year-old children, that if they didn’t eat their marshmallow when he returned, they would receive another one.

Some kids waited, whilst most quickly ate their marshmallow. Mischel followed this group of kids for the next 14 years. The results were pretty amazing. The kids that waited scored 210 points higher on SATs; were more socially competent; and experienced more personal and professional success.

“Delayed gratification” is a discipline skill and an important learned strength. It shows you are capable of seeing the bigger picture with the end goal in clear sight. Most families in America today want instant gratification. We are taught to want what we want, when we want it, and we can’t get it soon enough! Sound familiar?

What Mischel was really measuring with the marshmallows wasn’t just about will power or self-control. This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it. The kids that were successful in holding off eating the marshmallow used “taught” skills to change their focus away from the marshmallow. In adults, this skill is what allows people to outsmart their shortcomings. If you have this skill, then you can study for the SAT instead of watching television; you can save more money for retirement; etc.

Interestingly enough, when Mischel taught the kids a simple set of mental tricks he dramatically improved their self-control. This showed that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts. But the real challenge was turning those tricks into habits, and that requires years of diligent practice. This is where our role as parents is critical for our children’s success in later life. According to Mischel, even the most mundane routines of childhood — such as not snacking before dinner or saving up their allowance or holding out until Christmas morning to open presents — are really exercises in cognitive training that teach our kids how to outsmart their desires.

“First come good habits, and then our habits make us,” goes the famous quote by Charles C. Noble. Success in almost anything goes to those that are most persistent and never give up. Just like the marshmallow kids; those that had the discipline or mental skills to wait, won the bigger prize. Those of us as adults, who wait and work for the bigger picture, ultimately end up being happier, healthier and wiser; and it all stems from having discipline!

By the time you read this letter, summer vacation will be over.  The old saying, “The tan lines will fade, but the memories will last forever,” comes to mind.  As we resume our schedules for the final quarter of the year; let’s play for the long term. Let’s set our kids on the right path for their future by instilling discipline and good habits in their daily routines. Remember to lead by example. Let’s set our own goals (both personal and business) and stick to them.

Those of you who are business owners like me, let’s finish 2018 strong and take that momentum into 2019. If you hit a few snags along the way, don’t pull back! Instead play harder. Life has a way of challenging us when we don’t expect it. Take my advice, when challenges occur, handle it like you were expecting it. Don’t just play for the now. Don’t take the easy option. Instant gratification, in most cases, is not the answer. Resist the marshmallow now, for the greater prize later. Let’s end 2018 on a high

Ralph Harris