Learning from Kids and their Marshmallows

Self-discipline is a skill that must be learned early. It is listed by Paul as one of the fruit that the Holy Spirit is trying to develop in our lives (Galatians 5:25-6).   When self-discipline is underdeveloped it results in an entire host of social and psychological problems. Not only is a lack of self-discipline related to overt behavioral problems like sexual acting out and interpersonal violence, it also affects our cognitive and emotional worlds. When you are unable to control your impulses you find it difficult to delay gratification. At school children who cannot focus on the difficult tasks of reading, mathematic problem solving and studying for an examination will fail to make the grades that they are intellectually capable of attaining. Teenagers who pass through puberty and into adolescence will find it difficult to harness their sexual urges. Persons without self-discipline will find it impossible to control urges to buy things they do not need, or to resist the temptation to engage in behaviors that bring immediate pleasure but have significant social, moral or medical consequences later. Adults without self-control are prone to sexual misconduct, interpersonal conflict, financial stress, health issues and anxiety.

In the late 1960s and early 70s Stanford University psychologist Walter Mischel did some experiments on the capacity of children to delay gratification. His experiments have become classics in the study of human behavior. In his research a child was offered a choice of having a marshmallow immediately or, if they could wait, when the researcher returned they would receive TWO marshmallows. Watching the videos of how these children reacted while the researcher was out of the room is hilarious! You can see it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX_oy9614HQ I’m sure you would be able to identify with many of these children as they squirmed under the pressure of trying to delay their gratification! Some of them licking the marshmallow, sniffing it, touching it, ignoring it…but oh the joy of the little boy who waited till the end and when he got his reward stuffed BOTH marshmallows gleefully into his mouth!

But what is even more interesting, Michshel and his colleagues have found that those children who were able to delay their gratification, waiting for the better reward also tended to have better educational achievement, better body mass indices and generally better life outcomes. When the Holy Spirit urges us to postpone gratification He is not trying to punish us, He has a much better future in store for us. Psychologists are only discovering this now!

Practicing the spiritual disciplines, learning to wait, postponing gratification and teaching our children to do the same is not only financially, psychologically and educationally wise, it holds great reward in the Kingdom of God!

So, don’t eat those marshmallows!

…and don’t forget to take your own Discipleship Assessment!

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