The “Marshmallow Test” and Your Mind

The “Marshmallow Test” and Your Mind

The “Marshmallow Test” and Your Mind

  • Your unconscious mind needs direction, is most comfortable with emotions and symbols, deals with positives only and stores, organizes and surfaces your memories
  • Expressing yourself artistically, meditating, rehearsing desired outcomes and using positive self-talk are some of the ways you can begin to harness the power of your unconscious mind.
  • The payoff of delayed gratification is immense.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, researchers from Stanford University initiated the “Marshmallow Test” at Bing Nursery School near San Francisco to explore how the conscious mind can subdue the unconscious mind.

Repeated in the film, this experiment endures as 1 of the most important tests related to self-control and motivation. It involves seating a 4-year-old child in front of a table on which has been placed a plate with 1 marshmallow and a small hand bell.

Before a trusted adult leaves the room to “take care of something,” he invites the child to choose if he/she would like to receive a 2nd marshmallow, which is produced from a package of marshmallows the adult has on hand.

To earn the 2nd marshmallow, prior to the adult’s return, the child is told he/she must avoid doing the following:

  • Eating the 1st marshmallow
  • Ringing the bell to summon the adult to return earlier than planned

Over the years this test has been used, it is evident each child had previously developed his/her personal strategy to resist temptation and exercise self-control well before participating in the experiment.

As such, participant brains were effectively on autopilot during the test, which would suggest the outcomes had very little to do with situational willpower.

Walter Mischel, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Columbia University and hailed inventor of the marshmallow test, said:

“The conception of willpower as a stoic thing, where you essentially bite your lip, will it and make it happen. [This] is a terrific way to have resolutions that don’t work out. It’s just too hard, it’s just too impossible. You have to in some way engage the environment, change it and transform it. The only other thing you can do [to overcome temptation] is change your perceptions, and change where you put your attention.”

The children who waited for the adult to return on his own were shown to be successful in redirecting themselves to other activities while they were waiting.

These other activities helped them overcome temptation by choosing to distract or redirect their focus away from the Marshmallow.

“4-year-olds can be brilliantly imaginative about distracting themselves: turning their toes into piano keyboards, singing little songs, exploring their nasal orifices,” stated Dr. Mischel.

The researchers have kept tabs on the original children who participated in The Marshmallow Test in the early 1970’s. Through ongoing interviews, scientists have found that compared to subjects who immediately devoured the Marshmallow, those who at the age of 4 were able to wait, went on to:

  1. Achieve higher scores on college entry exams
  2. Earn significantly more money
  3. Experience happier marriages
  4. Maintain a lower body mass index (BMI)

Related to BMI, researchers noted that each additional minute the preschooler delayed gratification predicted a 0.2-point reduction in adult BMI.

The study authors stated: “Longer delay of gratification at age 4 years was associated with a lower BMI three decades later. Identifying children with greater difficulty in delaying gratification could help detect children at risk of becoming overweight or obese. Interventions that improve self-control in young children have been developed and might reduce children’s risk of becoming overweight.”

Clearly, as the producers of “Automatic Brain” (see the video at the end) assert, your unconscious mind has a strong, powerful influence in your life. For obvious reasons, you want to harness its power and direct its influence in positive, life-giving ways.

I suggests 6 actions to can take to more fully leverage and direct the potential of the unconscious mind, they are as follows:

Express yourself artistically: Any type of artistic endeavors, like coloring, drawing or painting, makes use of the subconscious by allowing the creative work to surface and help you express your true feelings. If you are unsure how to get started, you might consider taking an art class, even if you have little artistic talent or interest.

Because the goal is to tap into your subconscious mind, you do not necessarily need to be a great artist, just open to the process of creating.

Meditate: Of all of the ways to connect with and influence your subconscious mind, meditation may be the most powerful. During meditation, you are becoming more relaxed, thereby setting aside conscious thinking.

In a relaxed, open-minded state, you are able to access deeper feelings and thoughts that are normally suppressed.

For some details on mindfulness, a form of meditation, go here.

Rehearse desired outcomes: A great way to program a new activity, skill or thought into your unconscious mind is to rehearse it and repeat it until it takes root. Countless songs are lodged in your subconscious, and you can sing them mindlessly, simply because you repeated them at some earlier point in your life.

Just as you can sing the songs, you can rehearse new attitudes, ideas, outcomes and thoughts.

By repeating what you want several times in a row on a daily basis, you will help your subconscious mind catch on and help you achieve your desired outcomes.

Review before bed: Especially as it relates to learning new material, reviewing it just before you go to sleep may help you transfer it to your subconscious. Reading over Key portions of goals, presentations or speeches as the last thing you do before bed ensures the information is in the forefront of your mind as you drift off to sleep.

This technique also has the potential to influence the content of your dreams.

Think and Speak positively: Speaking out positive affirmations is a great way to plant positive thoughts and ideas into your unconscious mind.

By adopting a consistent habit of positive self-talk, you will notice more upbeat thoughts beginning to gradually counteract previously negative thinking.

Starting with simple phrases such as “I can do this” or “I am doing a fantastic job” will lift your spirits and begin to influence how you think and feel about yourself, even if others around you continue to criticize and be negative.

Avoid using negative phraseology. Instead, rephrase the thought into a positive form such as, I will speak only kind, encouraging words.

Write it down: Getting your thoughts down on paper can help you remove mind clutter. Take out a pad of paper and a pen, set a timer for 5 to 10 mins and begin writing whatever comes to mind.

Write literally anything and everything that comes to mind.

Over time, as you stick with this habit your brain will work its way into your subconscious, uncovering and surfacing valuable insights and thoughts you may not have even realized you had.

If you are in the habit of keeping a diary or journal, you probably already experience the many benefits related to this practice.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation, and you can practice it anytime, anywhere. Simply choose to actively pay attention to the moment you are in right now with a nonjudgmental attitude.

Instead of letting your mind wander, when mindful, you live in the eternal moment, letting any distracting thoughts aka “Monkey Thoughts” and judgments pass through your mind without getting caught up in emotional implications and negativity, which have the potential to distract you and pull you away from the here and now.

A great advantage of mindfulness is the ease with which you can incorporate it into any aspect of your day.

The goal is to pay attention to the sensations you are experiencing in the “Now”.

Many school teachers are now beginning their classes with short mindfulness exercises involving activities such as counting breaths, focusing on the sensations of breathing, and visualizing thoughts and feelings.

The goal is to help students prepare for academic lectures and lessons by:

  1. Focusing and training their attention
  2. Quieting their thoughts
  3. Regulating their emotions

Mindfulness, especially the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, has also made its way into medical settings.

For example, MBSR uses specific exercises to support patients who are dealing with chronic pain.

In recent years, mindfulness has been used to ease stress on Capitol Hill, boost athletic and business performance for the Seattle Seahawks and Google, and drive results in the US Military.

While the move toward mindfulness has spurred an industry involved in the promotion of all sorts of books, courses, magazines and smartphone apps, you can bring mindfulness into your everyday world without any special equipment or training.

Get started:

  1. Begin your day mindfully by focusing on your breathing for 5 mins before you get out of bed. Tune in to the flow of your breath and the rise and fall of your belly. By regulating your breathing 1st thing after you wake up, you can bring more clarity and focus to the rest of your day
  2. Minimize multitasking, which works in direct opposition to mindfulness. If you find yourself trying to complete many tasks at once, stop yourself and focus your attention back to the task at hand.
  3. Disable emotionally distracting thoughts by reminding yourself they are only “projections,” not a guaranteed future reality. As such, you can allow those thoughts to pass rather than giving them permission to stress you out.
  4. Sit quietly for a time, perhaps in the company of soothing music. Breathe rhythmically, and focus on something such as your breathing, a soothing image or object, a breath prayer or mantra, or simply being aware of the Now.

Whatever method you choose to become more aware of and engaged with your brain will certainly pay dividends across your entire life physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The human mind is powerful and, as the producers of “Automatic Brain” have suggested, you are likely only connected to and leveraging a very small portion of all the wonderful benefits your brain has to offer.

And always remember, engage your mind before your mouth, and eat Real  food.

Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live livey

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Paul Ebeling

Paul A. Ebeling, polymath, excels in diverse fields of knowledge. Pattern Recognition Analyst in Equities, Commodities and Foreign Exchange and author of “The Red Roadmaster’s Technical Report” on the US Major Market Indices™, a highly regarded, weekly financial market letter, he is also a philosopher, issuing insights on a wide range of subjects to a following of over 250,000 cohorts. An international audience of opinion makers, business leaders, and global organizations recognizes Ebeling as an expert.

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