Book: ‘The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control’ by Walter Mischel

Do you know why some dieters cannot stick to their goals and soon returns back to their old habits? Why some of those who want to quit smoking, cannot resist temptation and are soon back to their bad habits? Do you know why for some it is hard to refuse extra portion of dessert and for some – they can easily say ‘no’ even for the first portion? Answer seems to be quite easy – self-control.

Although the title of ‘The Marshmallow Test’  book (written by Walter Mischel) also says: ‘Mastering Self-control’, this book does not give secret formulas (although, it gives possible methods) that would help you to avoid the temptations for ‘just one cigarette..!’ But that’s why I liked this book – it doesn’t say what and how to act in particular situations, it makes you think! It explains how the human brain is functioning – why we do things the way we do and what are the triggers that determine our actions. And, therefore, you – yourself – can think of your own character and actions and how to master your behavior that you haven’t done in your early ages of the living.    

I wouldn’t say that there are cosmically new things described in this book, but there are some that made more clear picture in understanding behaviour of people, but first of all – myself. This is the first book I would be ready to read also for the second time some day later. I like that this book gives a lot of different examples from various experiments – that gives quite broad coverage of situations and including as much as possible different influential factors.

At the end I would like to share some (quite many) thoughts that seemed interesting for me that I would like to keep to remember:

  • […] parents who overcontrol their toddlers risk undermining the development of their children’s self-control skills, while those who support and encourage autonomy in problem-solving efforts are likely to maximize their children’s chances of coming home from preschool eager to tell them how they got their two marshmallows.
  • The emotional behaviour of children continuously influences that of their caregivers, and vice versa, escalating into more pleasure on one end of the continuum and more distress on the other.
  • We see others accurately, but we wear the rose-colored glasses when we rate ourselves, if we are fortunate enough to not be depressed. In fact, this kind of inflation in self-evaluation may be what helps protect most people from being depressed.
  • Behaviour is context-dependent.
  • We compress bits of information into a compelling simplification, a stereotype that makes us feel that what is true in one situation is also true across other situations.
  • Regardless of how good one is at self-control, however, there are situations that can undo willpower and traumatize well-functioning people in seemingly irrational, indeed maddening, ways.
  • […] willpower as a vital but limited biological resources that can easily be depleted for temporary periods.
  • […] self-control is like a muscle: when you actively exert volitional effort, “ego-depletion” occurs, and the muscle soon becomes fatigued.
  • […] when people are led to think that effortful tasks will invigorate rather than drain them, they improve their performance on a later tasks.
  • [Social intelligence is…] “Like, when something falls and you pick it up before you’re told.  It’s when you think ahead before someone tells you. […]”
  • [Self-control is…] “It’s thinking before doing,” […]
  • Choice does not mean one road for all […] Choice is about children having genuine options in how they make their lives, regardless of their demographics.
  • We are wonderfully creative at making tepid commitments and then finding endless ways to get around them.
  • […] you have to want to change, with emphasis on the “want to”.
  • To keep infants’ stress levels low, a first step for parents might be to try to reduce their own stress, […]
  • The self-control strategies that children develop are shaped by the attachment experiences with caretakers from the start of life.
  • […] we can help them [children] understand and accept that failures along the route are part of life and learning, and then encourage them to find constructive ways to deal with such setbacks so that they keep trying instead of becoming anxious, depressed, and avoidant.
  • […] a life lived with too much delay of gratification can be as sad as one without enough of it.
  • Self-control skills are essential for pursuing our goals successfully, but it is the goals themselves that give us direction and motivation.
  • We do not come into the world with a bundle of fixed, stable traits that determine who we become. We develop in continuous interactions with our social and biological environments.


By changing how we think, we can change what we feel, do, and become.

By the way, if you type ‘the marshmallow test’ on youtube, you can find even cute videos that show the principles of the experiment.

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