Book Recommendation: The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test CoverThe Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel, is probably one of the most important books to read as a parent if you want to raise a child to become a happy, successful adult. This is because it outlines the basis behind how we develop self-control as we grow up, how our ability to delay gratification until a future point can influence our ability to be successful in later life, how we can improve our self-control, and, most importantly, how we can help and encourage our children to develop good self-control.

Basic Book Information (2015 Paperback Edition): ISBN: 978-0552168861; Year of First Publication: 2014; Recommended Retail Price (RRP): £9.99/US$10.99; Number of Pages: 324. To purchase this book in the UK, click here. To purchase this book in the USA, click here.

What is this book about? This book is all about the ability to delay gratification, which is more commonly known as self-control, and why delayed gratification in young children is such a good predictor of adult success. The title comes from the test which Mischel developed to test the delayed gratification skills of children, and it comprises of leaving an unattended child in a room with a treat having told them that if they can resist the treat (often, but not always, the titular marshmallow) until the adult returns, they will get twice as many. You can see this test in action in the video below.

Why is it important to know? Self-control, or the ability to delay gratification, is one of the most important core life skills that a child needs to master in order to grow into a happy, successful adult. Without it, they do not develop the ability to identify and work towards long-term goals, and instead will be continually side-tracked by life’s many temptations. Self-control is the corner-stone on which many other core life skills are built, including good financial management, academic development and the ability to sustain successful interpersonal relationships. Children who have a good ability to delay gratification become happier, healthier, more successful and more financially better off adults who are less likely to become obese or addicted to activities such as gambling, drinking and taking drugs. Delayed gratification skills are a learned behaviour, and as a result it is essential that you understand what it is, how to assess whether your child is developing it appropriately and how to encourage them to improve their self-control.

What are the key take home messages? 1. A good ability to delay gratification as a child is one of the major keys to (and predictors of) a successful happy adult life; 2. Our ability to delay gratification is learned and not innate, so we can change it, especially while we’re still kids, by doing things that increase our ability to control ourselves; 3. If a child learns not to trust the adults in their lives, they learn that delaying gratification is not worth it and they won’t develop good self-control (to the detriment of their future happiness and success); 4. One of the best way to encourage your child to develop good self-control is to act as a good role model and show them good self-control in action in their daily lives (and the rewards it brings).

Who is the author? Walter Mischel is one of the founding fathers of the field of studying delayed gratification and has been involved in many of the key research studies. This allows him to give an insider’s view of the field, how it has developed and what the most important findings have been.

How technical is this book? This book is a mix of historical reflection on how the field developed, interesting case studies, explanation of the key findings and advice for how to improve your self-control, and that of you children. Through this, it provides all you could ever wish to know about delayed gratification in simple, non-technical language and a relatively light, conversational style.

How long will it take to read? At 282 pages, the main body of this book is quite long, but its style makes it easy to read, and it should take no more than about six to ten hours to finish. However, it is broken into short enough chapters (twenty in all) that are sufficiently self-contained to allow you to dip into it whenever you have the time without becoming too lost because you cannot remember what the previous chapter said.

Are there other books by the same author? The Marshmallow Test is the first popular science book by Walter Mischel, but he has also published a number of technical books about how human personalities develop. You can find more information about them here (if you are based in the UK) or here (if you are based on the USA).

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About The Author: This post was written by Colin Drysdale, the creator of How To Raise A Happy Genius.

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