In the 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel, at Stanford University, conducted the famous Marshmallow Experiment on a group of four-year-olds. If you are not familiar with this experiment, it was designed to test impulse control, with follow-up years later to determine the correlation between impulse control and IQ among other things.
The kids were put in a room, one at a time. They were sat at a table. On the table was a plate with one marshmallow. The experimenter told them he had to leave and that while he was away, they could have the marshmallow if they really wanted it. But, if they waited for the experimenter to return, they could have two marshmallows. One third of the children grabbed the marshmallow within seconds of the experimenter leaving. One third waited a while, but ate the marshmallow before the experimenter returned. One third waited up to twenty minutes, without eating the marshmallow, until the experimenter returned.
Years later, it was discovered that the children with the best impulse control turned out to be the most successful in life – they were better educated, had better jobs, better relationships and were healthier and happier all around.
We have to shake our heads in disbelief at those four-year-olds who couldn’t wait even a couple of minutes to eat that marshmallow, knowing there would be a reward to delaying their gratification. Don’t we?
How is your impulse control?
Buddha compared the human mind to a wild animal that needed taming. Reason over passion.
We do a lot of things every day that are not in our best interests; that are harmful to us; that we know are harmful to us. Why? Because we are like those four-year-olds with the marshmallow – we just can’t help ourselves.
At the extreme, people who lack impulse control become addicts and/or criminals.
For most of us we just spend too much money. We buy stuff we really don’t need. We eat things we know will cause us to become overweight and lead to health issues and/or make us feel poorly. We watch too much TV. We smoke. We drink too much. We engage in relationships that harm us. We don’t finish projects. We don’t get out and exercise….. The list is endless.
The standard come-back answer for us is usually, “Ya, well I want to enjoy my life – not be a slave to discipline and self-deprivation.”
What if there was a way to regulate your impulse control? Medication combined with psychotherapy often helps those with severe Impulse Control Disorder. But what about helping the average person gain a little more control over their impulsive (wild animal) selves?
Foods high in glutamic acid/glutamate are supposed to help: almonds, walnuts, beef liver, broccoli, spinach, halibut, oranges, citrus fruits, bananas, whole wheat, whole grains, rice bran, brown rice, oats, whole grain, lentils.
Of course you would have to have the self-discipline to include more of these foods in your diet in the first place.
Interestingly, glutamic acid tablets are also known as “smart pills”. Back in the 1940s, experiments were conducted on children with very low IQs (40s and 50s) that claimed high doses of glutamic acid increased these children’s IQs.
So, how is your impulse control? Do you ever buy something, say something, do something, eat something and/or procrastinate over something that you later kick yourself for? Does this happen only once in a while? Sometimes? Often? All the time?
What would life be like if you always had complete control over your desire for that marshmallow?