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The Marshmallow Test, The Importance of Self-Control

In a famous “Marshmallow Test” experiment, some children were tested by being given a Marshmallow, with the condition that if the child can wait for 15 minutes without eating his Marshmallow, he will get another Marshmallow gift.

 This is an excellent experiment in giving an illustration of how a child controls himself. The child is faced with two choices, immediately devouring the Marshmallow served, or refraining for a moment to expect more enjoyment in the future (in this case the future is only 15 minutes away, he2x)

Very interesting, witnessing the reaction of the children in the experiment, they were placed in a closed room, alone, with Marshmallow teasing in front of him, and with a hidden camera to observe their behavior.

 Some hold the Marshmallow, some try to distract by looking away, do not want to see Marshmallow in front of them, some try to taste a little, some children even cry in an effort to resist the temptation, and of course there are also some children who immediately eat the yummy Marshmallow, regardless of the prize that awaits ahead.

 (Marshmallow Test can be watched on YouTube, one of which is published by IgniterMedia, please click here )

 This test has a profound meaning, many studies that study the relationship between children’s self-control abilities, and their success in adulthood.  One of the Dunedin studies found that children’s self-control skills – such as perseverance and self-discipline, can predict their health, wealth, and criminal record later on, regardless of their IQ and social background.

 An international team led by Professors Avshalom Caspi and Terrie Moffitt, both from Duke University and King’s College London and Professor Richie Poulton from Otago University, conducted the study, which provided the first hard evidence that childhood self-control did indeed affect outcomes in adulthood.

 The team studied more than 1,000 people born in Dunedin between 1972-1973, during the first decade of their lives and then examined their health profile, wealth, and criminal record at the age of 32.

 The results were quite surprising. Children who, at the age of three, had lower self-control scores, were more likely to have worse adulthood, including:

Weak health profile (including poor lung function, sexually transmitted infections, obesity, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, dental disease)

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 Drug dependence (including tobacco, alcohol, cannabis)

 Difficulties with financial planning (including savings habits, home-ownership, investments, retirement plans)

 Difficulties with credit and money management (including bankruptcy, credit card problems, living in debt bondage)

 Have a criminal record.

 More details about this study can be read on the Dunedin study website, please click here.

The Choice between Instant Enjoyment vs. (Hope for) Enjoyment in The Future

 If we think about it, life is filled with choices, from waking up until we sleep again, from trivial things like choosing a breakfast menu or choosing activities to fill spare time, to complicated things, such as choosing a mate or determining priorities in using salary every month.

 And in every choice in life, we seem to be confronted with a kind of marshmallow test in various variants and levels.  We are often faced with the choice between instant pleasure that can be felt immediately or delaying that pleasure for greater satisfaction in the future, which is usually full of uncertainty.

for example, in choosing a menu for eating and drinking, we are often confronted with delicious choices like burgers, donuts, fried foods, potato chips, sweet tea, soft drinks, which are said to be unhealthy and make your stomach widen. Or bland and boring food choices like boiled sweet potatoes, salads, vegetables, oatmeal, plus bitter tea, which is potentially better for our health in the future. (Which one do you choose? let’s choose honestly, he2x)

 The pleasure hormones (dopamine and endorphins) in our body always encourage and charge us to choose delicious and enjoyable foods and or activities.

People with low levels of self-control, as in the above study, are more likely to have a poor health profile because, in every health-related choice, they tend to prefer the temptation of instant enjoyment, rather than having to struggle to hold back for a result that (maybe) better in the future.

 In more extreme cases, they can’t even resist the temptation of greater momentary pleasure, for example, being stuck on drug addiction or a more moderate level, stuck on cigaratte addiction.

People who are trapped by cigaratte addiction, for example, prefer instant enjoyment that can be felt immediately, rather than (opportunities) enjoyment of better health in the future.

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And they have magic sentences for that – apart from hundreds of studies, scientific facts or any medical evidence (which they don’t even want to read) –

 “Reality” that “Adjie Massaid (a very famous Indonesian young actor) did not smoke, died aged 43 years,  while Deng Xiaoping smoking can live to be 94 years ..!  “

 It’s enough to break all the arguments that are not friendly with other cigarettes, he2x, it’s OK, if so, the case closed ..!  (sorry for those who smoke, no offense, peace )

 Turning to manage income, we are also faced with more complicated choices, the temptation of instant pleasure to spend income on the hedon lifestyle, especially in this day and age, it must be admitted that it is challenging to control.

 While introspecting, and without intending to compare, we can look around us, and witness real examples, how there are our friends who are more successful in resisting the temptations of the hedon lifestyle enjoyment, and prefer to invest some of its income in a house, land or other business that produces. Of course there are also those who prefer to more relax, moving from one café to  other cafes, vacation from one city to another, hunt for the latest gadgets, wear watches or bags with famous brands, and in the end, some of them are stuck on credit card debt, and rarely have savings.

 (I really want to have a lifestyle like the last one, but have an investment like a friend in the first example, well it’s not possible, yeah he2x)

 In terms of activity choices in spending leisure time, we are also faced with various options, such as the marshmallow test. Looking for instant enjoyment, which is often less productive – for instance sleep during the afternoon, or gossiping, or doing something less enjoyable, but will we feel the benefits in the long run. for example reading to add insight or learn a new skill. (how fun it is, huh!)

 In this case, for introspection and learning, I have failed when in youth I was given the choice of an English course or spent leisure time playing with friends (which of course is more enjoyable than draining the brain in a boring course).  I choose the second one. The result is felt now when some of my friends have already been able to speak English very fluently, I still have to struggle to study and study again. he2x

And I feel responsible of course so that these mistakes do not need to be repeated by my children.

 Even more important, because according to the above research, that the ability to self-control (self-control) in children, will be very influential in the success of various aspects of life in his adulthood, it becomes crucial to teach and train them to control themselves, withstand instant pleasure  for better results in the future

The simplest example is to teach children to save, give a physical piggy bank, provide a daily or weekly allowance, then train them to set aside pocket money in the piggy bank. This will familiarize the child to control the temptation of pleasure for a moment (to buy ice cream now for example) and exchange it for greater satisfaction, for instance, to buy more expensive toys when the piggy bank is full.

 (but well sometimes it fails too, yeah, they are smart children, saving yes saving, for purchase ice cream anyway, they use Father’s money …, ha3x) ..


Self Control

Back again to self-control earlier, from a religious perspective, this we know by controlling lust.

Lust is human nature, an integral part in each of us, we are not asked to turn off our desire, but control it according to religious guidance.

 Viewed from the perspective of religion, controlling this lust becomes its challenge because its reward and punishment are at the level of concepts and beliefs.

 Do we choose an instant pleasure that is categorized by religion as “immoral” (for example, adultery, gambling, or drunkenness) or choose to avoid it with the belief that it is forbidden by religion and or hope for greater enjoyment (heaven) in the future.

 Well, if the example is a big sin like above, maybe we are still easier to say “no”, but really in daily life, we are faced with various choices of instant enjoyment that are certain before our eyes versus (the belief in) future pleasure promised by God  SWT,

For example, the choice between eating subyhat food (which is unclear halal or forbidden) in front of the eyes or leaving it with a rumbling stomach. Or the opportunity to receive thanks from vendors at work with an appendage “This is not a bribe, sir, just a thank you, “Or leave it with the consequence that our wallet is empty, while a friend’s wallet is full.

 Or the choice to relieve fatigue by going to a massage parlor, with the forgiving sentence, “just massage, why not,” or choose to join the association by tasting liquor for reasons of work demands or decide to avoid it even with a drop with the consequences of being labeled strange, not friendly, or radical, or the choice to take part in betting watching football or betting on the golf course, with the emphasis that “this is not gambling, this is just betting for the sake of association …”,

 All are choices, tests of our level of faith, and the extent to which we can control our desires.

 Allah SWT reminds us in the Surah Al-Furqon.

Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him? Or do you think that most of them hear or reason? They are not except like livestock. Rather, they are [even] more astray in [their] way. (Quran Surah Al-Furqaan [25] : 43-44)

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 Let us continue to learn and practice, and at the same time, also teach our children how important it is to control the passions, and hopefully, thus, we can achieve success in life in the world and the hereafter, amen.

This post is also available in: Indonesian

Lahir di Palembang pada bulan November 1981, saya menyelesaikan S1 di Jurusan Teknik Kimia Universitas Sriwijaya, dan S2 Master of Business Administration (MBA) di Sekolah Bisnis Management Institut Teknologi Bandung (SBM-ITB). Bekerja di salah satu BUMN dan tinggal di daerah Jakarta Selatan.


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