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The Marshmallow Test – The Payoff of Delayed Gratification


If you’ve never heard of the marshmallow test, it’s worth knowing about.

From Wikipedia:

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward (a marshmallow) provided immediately or two small rewards (i.e., a larger later reward) if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned.

In follow-up studies, years later, the researchers found that those children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.

It’s a simple choice in this experiment, “one marshmallow now or two later?”

That is a variation of the same choice that each of us make every single day when it comes to a multitude of decisions in our lives.

Indulge in the thing right in front of us or make a disciplined choice now and receive more blessings later on?

In Take the Stairs we called this dynamic the Paradox Principle of Sacrifice.

Which simply stated is this: Easy short term choices lead to difficult long term consequences.

Meanwhile, difficult short term choices lead to better long term consequences.

That’s the payoff of self-discipline.

And self-control is the brother of self-discipline.

If self-discipline is doing things you know you should be doing even when you don’t feel like doing them.

Then self-control is not doing things you know you shouldn’t be doing.

But both of them have the same result: long term rewards.

Long term gain.

Long term satisfaction.

Long term happiness.

Doing the right thing in the short term is what creates the better life in the long run.

We often think of these things as “sacrifices” but they aren’t sacrifices.

A sacrifice is giving something up that you never get back.

Good decisions aren’t sacrifices at all.

Good decisions are short term down payments on rich future blessings.

Of course, this idea is nothing new.

Hebrews 12:11 said it this way 2000 years ago:

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time. Yet it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Think about that: “a harvest of righteousness and peace…”

Isn’t that what you want?

A harvest of righteousness and peace.

An abundance of blessings, good fortune, and calm faith.

A life filled with joy and free from stress.

Those things are available for your future.

They are available by the choices you make today.

They are available by doing the things now that you know you should be doing even when you don’t feel like doing them.

And by not doing things you know you shouldn’t be doing.

They are available through a little self-discipline and self-control expanded consistently.

In every area of your life, sow today for your harvest tomorrow.

Triggers Self-Discipline and Creating Radical Transformation with Marshall Goldsmith – Episode 181 of The Action Catalyst Podcast


Dr. Marshall Goldsmith has been recognized as one of the Top Ten Business Thinkers in the World and the top-rated executive coach at the Thinkers50 ceremony in London since 2011. Published in 2015, his book Triggers is a Wall Street Journal and New York Times #1 Bestseller! He’s also the author of New York Times bestseller and #1 Wall Street Journal Business Book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, winner of the Harold Longman Award as Best Business Book of the Year. With a PhD from UCLA, Marshall is a pioneer 360-degree feedback as a leadership development tool. His early efforts in providing feedback and then following-up with executives to measure changes in behavior were precursors to what eventually evolved as the field of executive coaching. With nearly 40 years of hands-on experience, Marshall Goldsmith is the leading expert on leadership and coaching for behavioral change.

Show Highlights:

  • A trigger is any stimulus that may impact our behavior. @coachgoldsmith
  • Almost all of us have a great plan of what we want to be in life but don’t implement it well. @coachgoldsmith
  • Every day we are barraged by triggers in our environment that throw us off target. @coachgoldsmith
  • Our environments are often willpower reduction machines. @coachgoldsmith
  • We overestimate our willpower abilities and underestimate our need for help. @coachgoldsmith
  • Our default reaction in life is not to find happiness or meaning; it is inertia. @coachgoldsmith
  • If we don’t challenge ourselves inertia kicks in and we just keep doing what we’ve been doing. @coachgoldsmith
  • Most of us spend more time planning vacation than then we do planning our lives. @coachgoldsmith
  • Sometimes what we need to preserve is more important than what we need to change. @coachgoldsmith
  • Before doing anything, ask yourself “Am I willing to make the investment required to make the change.” @coachgoldsmith
  • If you can develop a mastery over your emotions, you have created power in your life to do anything. @rory_vaden
  • You must set up your environment for success. @rory_vaden
  • Focus on daily activities, not long-term results. @rory_vaden
  • Be mindful of the daily activities you are doing and let the results be a byproduct. @rory_vaden
  • You must have accountability to create change. @rory_vaden
  • Embrass consistency over intensity. @rory_vaden
  • Doing the things you don’t want to do is the path to getting the life you want. @rory_vaden
  • Self-discipline creates freedom; Self-control creates power. @r0ry_vaden

This is a special extended interview! Send an email to with your first name in the subject line to gain access! 

Find more on Dr. Goldsmith or grab a copy of Triggers visit:

The Action Catalyst is a weekly podcast hosted by Rory Vaden of Southwestern Consulting every Wednesday. The show is regularly in the Top 25 of Business News Podcasts, has listeners from all around the world and shares “insights and inspiration to help you take action.” Each week Rory shares ideas on how to increase your self-discipline and make better use of your time to help you achieve your goals in life. He also interviews special expert guests and thought leaders. Subscribe on iTunes and please leave a rating and review!

Start With Stop

Start this year with what you need to stop doing.

Everyone gives so much focus and favor to all of the things they are going to “do” differently at the start of the year. What if, instead of doing that you became keenly intentional of all the things that you just needed to stop doing?

Almost every positive change in our life is in someway also connected to things we need to stop doing. We just don’t think about those as much.

For example, many of us think that to lose weight we’re going to go to the gym, eat more vegetables, or drink more water.  But what if we considered it an equally important victory if we went through the day without eating any bread?

Personally, about 9 years ago I was 45 pounds heavier than I am right now (actually make that 40 pounds heavier than I am right now because I put on a small “winter coat” of my own over Christmas). But I dropped all of that weight initially in the first 6 months largely in part to my decisions to:

–   Stop drinking all carbonated beverages

–   Stop eating all fast food

–   Stop eating desserts completely

I later introduced some of those things back into my diet regimen but only after an intense “harvest period” of avoiding them entirely. Sometimes you have to be willing to endure intense seasons of sacrifice to later enjoy the riches of rewards.

What would happen if we stopped our negative behaviors? How much would we accomplish by stopping our engagement in insignificant or trivial activities?

Businesses that need to improve their profitability can often make substantial progress by paying more attention to what they spend than what they sell.

People can restore their relationships dramatically by learning a bit more self-control around what they say and what they don’t say.

Teams can often get more done by eliminating the overabundance of things they are focused on.

We drastically underestimate the progress that can be made from reducing the things that take us backward without even having to do anything to move us forward.

This year, remember that there is simply tremendous power in learning to stop.