Monday, September 29, 2014

Of Marshmallows and Will-Power

Urist: I have to ask you about President Clinton and Tiger Woods, both mentioned in the book. I’ve heard of “decision fatigue”—are their respective media scandals both examples of adults who suffered from “willpower fatigue?” Men who could exercise enormous self-discipline on the golf course or in the Oval office but less so personally?

Mischel: No question. People experience willpower fatigue and plain old fatigue and exhaustion. What we do when we get tired is heavily influenced by the self-standards we develop and that in turn is strongly influenced by the models we have. Bill Clinton simply may have a different sense of entitlement: I worked hard all day, now I’m entitled to X, Y, or Z. Confusion about these kinds of behaviors [tremendous willpower in one situation, but not another] is erased when you realize self-control involves cognitive skills. You can have the skills and not use them. If your kid waits for the marshmallow, [then you know] she is able to do it. But if she doesn’t, you don’t know why. She may have decided she doesn’t want to.

Urist: So for adults and kids, self-control or the ability to delay gratification is like a muscle? You can choose to flex it or not?

Mischel: Yes, absolutely. That’s a perfectly reasonable analogy.

Urist: In the book, you advise parents if their child doesn’t pass the Marshmallow Test, ask them why they didn’t wait. What should I be trying to elicit from my son about why he grabbed the first little cupcake? When I asked, he just shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

Mischel: It sounds like your son is very comfortable with cupcakes and not having any cupcake panics and I wish him a hearty appetite. Whether the information is relevant in a school setting depends on how the child is doing in the classroom. If he or she is doing well, who cares? But if the child is distracted or has problems regulating his own negative emotions, is constantly getting into trouble with others, and spoiling things for classmates, what you can take from my work and my book, is to use all the strategies I discuss—namely making “if-then” plans and practicing them. Having a whole set of procedures in place can help a child regulate what he is feeling or doing more carefully.

No comments:

Post a Comment