We all know that our brains are the most malleable when we're young. The trick to raising smart (and successful) kids, then, is to start developing their thought processes when they're still at that fresh and unjaded state.

In a 1960's study conducted by Stanford professor Walter Mischel, hundreds of children were tested on what were then believed to be the most important characteristics for success in health, work, and life overall. Writer James Clear explains what the scientists learned decades ago--and shows us how to apply it to our children now.

The Stanford study began quite simply; each child participating was brought into a private room and had a marshmallow placed in front of them. The researcher then confronted them with a choice: They could either eat the marshmallow while the researcher left the room, or they could wait until the researcher came back and be rewarded with a second marshmallow. If the child consumed the marshmallow in the absence of the researcher, however, they wouldn't receive the second marshmallow.

And so, the researcher left the room.

Some children made it through the entire, 15-minute waiting period. Others ate the marshmallow right away. A couple struggled to restrain themselves, but ultimately gave in. Yet, the immediate results of the article, published in 1972, weren't the important part. It was what followed years after.

Ultimately, the study followed the initial child participants throughout much of their lives. What they ended up discovering was startling: Children who, in the initial marshmallow experiment, were able to delay gratification and wait to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher standardized test scores, lower levels of substance abuse, better responses to stress, lower levels of obesity--and so on.

The ability to delay gratification, it seems, is the secret to determining how well we end up doing in life. Holding off on immediate pleasure trains our self-control. It gives us the opportunity to practice how well we match up against hardship--how well we keep going even when the going gets tough.

In conclusion, if we hope to raise our kids to be smarter, we should teach them from infancy how to delay gratification. If they know to eat their vegetables before gorging themselves on dessert, and how to do their homework before indulging in TV, they will thank you the rest of their lives.

Published on: Jul 8, 2016
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