kids trying not to eat the marshmallow. . . ‘Do or do not. There is not try.’ – Yoda

I have been teaching ‘Career Development’ at Santa Fe College and recently thinking about job skills. When I was in graduate school I found a description of the job I wanted as a counselor for Department of Children and Families, working with children who had been abused, and I put up the description on my mirror to remind myself of the skills I needed to work on. Now, some people would not at all want the job I was going for, but that was the one I wanted. Since then the counseling jobs were ‘privatized.’ I was finding the ‘skills gap’- that gap in one’s abilities between where one is and where one needs to be. This is part of setting the goals to quietly and patiently arrive at that dream job experience that, for me, was to also create a social change. Now, at Santa Fe College and in the counseling work I want to give some practical tips on how to gain skills needed for your dream job.

Most of the skills listed were not job-specific, but general ones such as listening, getting to work on time, communication, and ‘soft skills.’ The skills that are most important are those basic ones that are used in every job. Some of these skills could even be considered ‘qualities’ or personality characteristics, traits. Thankfully, there are practical ways to grow in these most basic skills, such as self-control, that are essential to success in life.

I saw this article from the New York Times come up, ironically, in my facebook newsfeed: Learning How to Exert Self-Control. This marshmallow experiment was also mentioned in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Mr. Mischell is now 84 and about 45 years ago did this study on a group of six hundred some five year old children at Stanford University. He has just come out with a book, The Marshmallow Test. He gave the children a marshmallow (or cookie). He told them that if they waited until he came back they would get two marshmallows, or if they rang the bell on the desk someone would come back and they could eat the ONE marshmallow. Two out of three ate the one marshmallow and he has researched these kids, now adults, over the years to see how successful they were in different areas of life. The ones that waited had higher SAT scores, were less overweight, used less cocaine, earned more advanced degrees, coped better with stress, etc. So essentially, ‘patience is virtue’, was possibly proven by science here if we assume that our definition of ‘success’ is a virtue.

In another New York Times article, We Didn’t Eat the Marshmallow, The Marshmallow Ate Us, there is a similar study mentioned from University of Rochester. This study points out that children who were not raised in as stable a home as the 600+ academic professionals’ children used in the Stanford study may have operated under a different principle, ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’. This study was done with children who had some reason to doubt the researcher’s promise to come back with a second one. Children in homes where there is divorce, domestic violence, low socio-economic status, or some other factors which create instability may have reasons they assume what they are told may not be as likely to happen.

Though social changes are important and willpower only goes so far, we still want to know how we can practically gain the valuable skill of patience, delayed gratification, self-control. The environment in our society and home being what it is, how can we best overcome the temptations that prevent our dreams being realized?

“The children who succeed turn their backs on the cookie, push it away, pretend it’s something nonedible like a piece of wood, or invent a song. Instead of staring down the cookie, they transform it into something with less of a throbbing pull on them.”

“think of the marshmallow as a white cloud or a cotton ball. . .”

Adults can use similar methods of distraction and distancing, (Mischell) says.

There are some simple techniques and phrases one can use such as ‘if, then’ plans for delayed gratification. “If it is before noon, I won’t go on facebook. . . If I feel angry, I will count back from ten. . .” You can think positively about a situation at work with a ‘what if. . . something (specific) good happens?’ and instead of ‘have to’ think about ‘want to’ and ‘enjoy’. Reframe your woes, complaints, sorrows, and the wrongs done to you in a positive light. Thinking about how they could be ‘repurposed’ and used to benefit you and others can aid you in delaying self-gratification, getting a greater reward in the long run.

Understanding what brings us the rewards of happiness and joy can aid us in gaining this skill for our job and our personal life. Even more so than a marshmallow, waiting for social ‘experiences’ actually makes you happier. It would make everyone happier and perhaps also create a social environment that is more stable and happy for us to wait and look forward to social experiences, together. Looking at this in light of the Rochester study I draw some conclusions. Waiting patiently for a social experience together could create a compounding reward in that it creates that stable environment that reassures us all we will get the second marshmallow. You can read about why waiting in line for experiences makes us happier in Time magazine.

Mr. Mischell talks about the plasticity of the human brain and explains the study he did on the preschool children he followed over the years. Self-control can be learned.

TED talk and duplicate Marshmallow study in Columbia.

“I think we have found the most important principle for success.”

Rachel Hofer, MS