Cookies, Anyone?

Imagine that you’re sitting in an empty room at a table with a plate of cookies and are told you can have one cookie now or two cookies later. Which option would you choose?

Such a scenario was used in the 1960s and 1970s by psychologist Walter Mischel and his colleagues at Stanford University to examine the psychology of delayed gratification and self-control among preschool children.

In a series of experiments, they tested under which conditions children would give in to temptation and under which conditions they would delay gratification and wait for a preferred reward. The children waited the longest time when neither the delayed nor the immediate reward was available for the children’s attention while they waited. They waited the shortest time when both the delayed and the immediate rewards were on the table in front of them while they waited.

Many years later, as teenagers and as adults, the preschoolers who showed self-control and delayed gratification longer were more self-reliant and confident, earned much better SAT scores, were better able to pursue and reach long-term goals, had reached higher educational levels, and even weighed less. Individuals who had lifelong low self-control experienced problems with their behavior when they were faced with attractive temptations.

Being a successful runner requires a lot of self-control, delaying gratification now for the more desirable reward later. People can wait for something without frustration if they expect that they really will get the deferred larger outcome later, and, in the meantime, shift their attention elsewhere and occupy themselves with distractions.

– from Running Periodization: Training Theories to Run Faster

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