Delayed gratification – marshmallows

By Dave Henning / March 19, 2022

“Delayed gratification is the key.  The key to what?  Almost everything!  And most definitely habit formation.  It goes by another name, willpower.  It’s mind over matter.  It’s nurture over nature.”- Mark Batterson

On Day 16 (“Make Decisions Against Yourself”) of Do It for a Day, Mark Batterson talks about a famous study on delayed gratification.  It’s known as the Stanford marshmallow experiment.  Researchers asked nursery school children ages three to five to choose between a marshmallow and a pretzel.  Children able to wait a certain amount of time got to eat their preferred snack.

Most significantly, a follow-up study correlated the ability to delay gratification with academic achievement.  For example, the marshmallow test predicted academic achievement better than IQ.  In fact, that test proved twice as powerful as IQ.

Two Greek words are translated as ‘power’ in the New Testament:

  1. Dunamis – the power to do things beyond your natural ability.  It’s also the origin of our word dynamite.
  2. Exousia – the power not to do something that is within your power.

Therefore, Pastor Batterson quips, you use dunamis to bench-press two hundred pounds.  But it takes exousia to stop after eating only one Oreo!  So, Mark likes to think of exousia as the ‘no’ muscle.  Mark adds:

“[Exousia is] not as easy to exercise as your pectorals, but one of the best ways to bench-press two hundred pounds is by fasting.  It’ll help you break bad habits by interrupting the pattern, but it’s key when it comes to making habits too.  Why?  Discipline in one area of our lives begets discipline in all other areas of our lives.”

In conclusion, Mark notes, delayed gratification means that you do the hardest thing first.  Because when you make the hardest task your priority, everything else seems easy compared to other tasks.  Thus, doing the hardest thing first piggybacks off the idea that harder is better.  And it adds a time stamp – harder sooner.

Today’s question: How hard do you find it to practice willpower?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Making decisions against yourself”

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Dave Henning

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