Why You’re Struggling to Lead. And How to Improve. by Jake Wilder

When Walter Mischel ran his famous marshmallow test in the 1970s, he wanted to show how our willpower develops with age. At a nursery school, he tested a series of 3, 4, and 5-year olds to see if they could refrain from eating a treat, such as a marshmallow. They were shown the treat, told that the adult was leaving for a while, and if they wanted to, they could eat the treat right away. But if they waited until the experimenter came back, they would be rewarded with two treats.

Some children ate the treat immediately. Others stuck it out until the experimenter returned and got two treats. And others managed to wait a little while, but then gave up and dove in.

Decades later, Mischel and his colleagues checked in on the participants, now adults with families and careers. Surprisingly, they found that those children who waited the full time grew into more successful adults. And since then, everyone with an internet connection has preached the importance of willpower and self-control as a critical aspect of life’s success.

But what if the study tells us something else entirely?

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