You are probably aware of the Stanford marshmallow experiments with four-year-olds in the 1960-70s, studying the tricky subject of delayed gratification.
What do we want?
When do we want it?
Walter Mischel, thought it a good idea to leave young children in a room, on their own, except for a choice: eat the one marshmallow plonked in front of them now, or wait…
And wait… for the experimenter to return with (trumpet fanfare, roll on the drum)… wait for it…
Er… so what, I hear you ask!
Well it turns out, that this early test of delayed gratification is a quite accurate predictor of the children’s adult life outcomes, educational attainment, health and happiness!
In the same way that we know that a child’s self-esteem is well-established by the age of five, so is their ability to strive for a long-term goal – to put off a small reward now, in order to gain a bigger one later.
And in the case of these particular experiments, 15 minutes later.
And that’s a long, loooong time for a young person to wait.
It must have been fascinating for the experimenter to observe the various strategies adopted by those kids to distract themselves from the prize before them.
- Turning their backs on it.
- Counting out loud.
- Playing their toes like keys on a piano keyboard.
- Singing ditties.
- Making a thorough exploration of their left nostril!
It’s interesting to note in later experiments, that the children tended to wait, only if past experiences demonstrated that they could rely on the promises made previously by the experimenter.
And then they’d wait up to 4 times longer, bless their little cotton socks!
Kids are no fools! Let them down once, and you’ve lost their trust.
The ability to sit in your seat and reach a goal, despite obstacles.
Or, according to Wiktionary…
noun: US informal
1. Power to endure or to persevere in an activity; stamina.”I was given tasks which required lots of Sitzfleisch, but didn’t offer much excitement”
2. A person’s buttocks.”the bedspring tattooed waffles all over my Sitzfleisch
Now you know!