Welcome back to my series on success based upon the social and psychological science called Emotional Intelligence.

People who are successful tend to do three things really well: Manage themselves, Motivate themselves, and Manage others. Previously, I wrote about the first “M” of success – Managing ourselves under times of stress. In this issue, I’d like to touch on the second concept of effective living — Motivating ourselves.

In my seminar on this topic, I touch upon the element that motivating oneself means targeting goals, overcoming obstacles, and training your brain to see the future. However, in this short article, I’d like to introduce to you a single study which brings some clarity to the function of motivation.


The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a marshmallow.)

As the adult left the room, the cameras were rolling. As you can imagine, most of the children ate the one marshmallow immediately after the tester left, but a smaller percentage of the children came up with specific strategies to help them resist the temptation of that lone marshmallow. Some of them would sing to themselves, as if to distract them from the treat, some would put their heads down and ignore the sweet, and some were very clever to lick the marshmallow, but not eat – just to tantalize themselves and “test the waters”, as it were.

In psychological and social statistics, this is called a longitudinal study. That is, the researchers followed these children for many years and discovered that the children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.

Can you believe that? Success based upon a marshmallow! Or, was it something more?

In my seminar, I call it “The Trick of the Two Marshmallows.” That is, the children who did not give into the current temptation of the one marshmallow before them and were able to wait for the second marshmallow, had developed a specific skill set – they could visualize the future benefit over the present pleasure.


There once was a woman who had a goal; and her goal was to buy a new house. But there was a temptation in her way called, The Mall of America! Each time she saved enough money for the new house, there happened to be a sale at the The Mall and she would frivolously spend her money on things which distracted her from her goal – attaining enough down payment monies for the house.

How can she resist The Mall and achieve her goal? By employing the “Trick of the Two Marshmallows.” She needs to train her brain to see the future; how the kitchen and living room will look, how she will entertain family and friends at her house, and the return on investment she will receive when she sells her house after some years and she can invest the equity into a bigger, better, larger home.

This is neurologically sound. Your brain tends to give you what you focus upon. Do you focus upon the temptation you are trying to resist (the one marshmallow), or do you see the future return (the two marshmallows)? That is a small part of the 2nd “M” of success in my seminar (there are many more), but I hope this metaphor of marshmallows will give you a clue as to how to motivate yourself to achieve your goals.

Next newsletter: The 3rd “M”: Managing Other People

All the best,
Psychologist and Humorist, Bruce Christopher Bruce Christopher Seminars www.bcseminars.com